On first impressions, Crooked Still is one of the most laid-back traditional string bands playing out there, which is surprising considering the group members’ young ages.
But temperament aside, Crooked Still can play. Over the course of the group’s two-hour show at The Egg’s Swyer Theater on Sunday night, the band evoked other groups two or three generations past, yet still managed to make its mostly traditional, old-timey set list sound fresh and unique.
“Darling Corey” got the night off to a lively start, perfectly showcasing Greg Liszt’s banjo playing. His intricate, melodic lines and taught rhythm playing continued to be one of the most impressive elements of Crooked Still’s performance, particularly solos on a Robert Johnson song, “Last Fair Deal Gone Down,” and “Did You Sleep Well,” which closed out the first set.
Feedback from a testy microphone threatened the first two songs of the group’s first set, but the band members persevered through these early technical difficulties. “We’ve been having problems with the ghost of John Harford following us,” Liszt jokingly explained before the group launched into “Undone in Sorrow,” an Olla Belle Reed song from Crooked Still’s latest album, “Still Crooked,” released this year.
The band kept up an upbeat groove throughout the majority of the first set, but the group’s slower numbers were definite high points. “Captain, Captain,” which the group dedicated to Red Sox catcher Jason Veritek, gave frontwoman Aoife O’Donovan’s breathy vocals their strongest showcase yet. The hauntingly beautiful number was easily the highlight of the evening’s first half.
After the first intermission, the band came back equally strong for its second set. Although O’Donovan and Liszt were often the focal points musically and during between-song banter, one cannot count out the contributions of Brittany Haas on fiddle and Tristan Clarridge on cello. This duo played well off of each other throughout, achieving beautiful harmonized leads on such numbers as “Oxford Town” in the second half of the night.
The band added a few twists to some of the traditional numbers. “Ain’t No Grave,” a song the group is contributing to HBO’s “True Blood,” achieved a truly menacing sound at some points, with wonderfully atmospheric playing from Haas and Clarridge again.
Crooked Still’s heroes were proudly on display throughout the evening. The group tackled two Robert Johnson songs, the aforementioned “Last Fair Deal Gone Down,” and the rollicking “Come on in My Kitchen,” and a Mississippi John Hurt tune, “Baby, What’s Wrong With You.” While O’Donovan’s voice had hovered in the softer registers for much of the evening, she was truly belting it out on this one.
Perhaps best of all was “Florence,” another downbeat number centered around O’Donovan’s baritone ukulele and hushed, whispered vocals. While the group may have had flashier performances elsewhere on Sunday, “Florence” provided the biggest emotional connection of the evening.
This was Crooked Still’s first appearance in Albany, although the group’s members have performed in Albany with other projects, and Crooked Still itself is no stranger to the region, having performed at the Falcon Ridge festival for a number of years. Hopefully this strong showing won’t be the group’s last at The Egg.
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or [email protected]
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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts