25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2010
The first time that I heard any of Crooked Still's music was on an NPR broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. I was (fortunately) on a fairly long drive and therefore something of a captive audience. NPR only featured one of the songs on Some Strange Country, but it was enough to send me scrambling for information and music excerpts as soon as I got home. The CD was such a new release that my local library didn't have it. I was so captivated by the one song that I heard ("Half of What We Know") that I decided to buy the recording without hearing any of the other tracks. What an unexpected and rich audio experience! I've been the Crooked Still missionary in my community here in Wisconsin and several other people are now Crooked Still fans. There is some similarity (to my ear anyway) to Nickel Creek and even reminiscent of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but those similarities are incidental and this CD is not about copying anyone's style. They are really worth a listen, and I admit to going on to purchase the other Crooked Still releases. Great music from a great new (to me) band, and I can't recommend them highly enough.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2010
I have been a Crooked Still fan from the beginning. I really liked their album "Shaken By a Low Sound" and was hoping that the group would return to that kind of sound. After a few line-up changes I feel like they have really brought it for "Some Strange Country". They continue to develop a characteristic sound and their albums have constant rotation in my listening queue. I recommend this album and any of their others to fans of bands such as The Be Good Tanyas, Mumford and Sons, and also to the fans of the more mainstream sounds of Alison Krauss.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2010
Saw this five piece ensemble for the first time last night, Friday, May 21st, 2010, at Carol Noonan's "Stone Mountain Arts Center" in Brownfield Maine (The Water is Wide: Inspired By the Stone Mountain Arts Center). What an enchanting evening! These musicians clearly love playing together - they also clearly love it when they have an audience to share their fun with. They were joined during several pieces by Sarah Jarosz (Song Up in Her Head) who is traveling with them as the front act for many performances. Their music was a delight to hear - a unique artistic beauty embedded in each composition - superb technical mastery from each instrument - and exceptional delivery in the performance. After such a great show I just had to see if they could somehow capture the magic of a great performance in a collection of recordings. I've downloaded the MP3 album and am listening as I write. This set of recordings delivers the same excitement and perfection they displayed on stage - their show last night earned them Three Standing Ovations from a packed house - the "Some Strange Country" sessions show the listener why. Get a copy of Some Strange Country - you'll be a fan in very short order.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2010
I like antique furniture, especially when fine old antiques have been given new life by a bit of repair and polish, and placed in a modern setting. A fine old 18th century jam cupboard, for example, cleaned up and displayed with pride in a modern kitchen. I say this as an analogy to the music of Crooked Still, because many of their songs are just that - really old gems that have been cleaned up and brought back to life in the 21st century. Please don't think this means they use electric guitars, synthesizers, or drum kits or any silliness like that... far from it! The instrumentation consists of banjo, cello, upright bass, and fiddle - very traditional, though the signature cello sets them apart from most "traditional" folk bands. What I mean is, the band is young and hip, the interpretations are fresh, the recordings are great, and by breathing new life into these songs, Crooked Still may just preserve them as reference renditions for future generations of fans of traditional folk music.
They're not just dusting off old Dylan tunes either. To find songs like Little Sadie, Hop High, and Aint No Grave, they dug deep into the gold mine of tunes floating around the lexicon of American and European folk music. These are songs you might encounter in one form or another if you play the banjo or the fiddle, but you'd be very unlikely to hear if you're just an average music aficionado.
We all form associations between where we are in life and the music we're listening to at that time (whenever I hear Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, it zaps me right back to my high school graduation!), so when I learned that Crooked Still had a new album out, I figured I'd save it for a special occasion: a family trip we had planned over the summer. So as we packed up the car and headed for a blissful week in the lush rolling hills and verdant green mountains of central Vermont, I downloaded Some Strange Country and burned it to a CD. The album did not disappoint! It's another knockout for Crooked Still - perhaps their best yet - and after listening to the album all week in the car, hearing it again now immediately brings us all back to a week of hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and enjoying each other's company on a great family vacation.
I digress... Anyway, Some Strange Country is another great Crooked Still album, packed with spruced up ancient gems, mixed in with what seem to be a few original compositions. In particular, Golden Vanity and Henry Lee are real old songs that have been given a fresh face on Some Strange Country. The former tells the story of a cabin boy aboard the Golden Vanity, who tries to blackmail the captain in a time of crisis, and ends up paying for it with his life. The latter is a murder ballad of love and betrayal. You can find traditional versions of both of these on that really popular video site that rhymes with moo-cube, and it's worth checking them out, because you'll soon hear how Crooked Still has elevated both of these songs from old-timey little ditties to powerful, emotional, and intense masterpieces.
I think my favorite song on the album is Locust in the Willow, which appears to be original (or, at least, I can't find any previous references to it). The song is old-timey and folksy, but at the same time intense... hard driving and passionate, like a wild animal that can only be tamed by O'Donovan's ethereal vocal. When her voice enters, the instrumental recedes, swirls around, paces back and forth in the cage, and when the vocal is done, it pounces out again to the same hard driving melody it started with. There are some videos of them performing this song on the web (again on that moo-cube thing) - look for the one that was recorded at WRNR radio station. Another favorite that appears to be original is You Were Gone. The poetic imagery in this song is beautiful, the vocal lonely and moving, and the instrumentals ebb and flow with passion. Listening to it sometimes makes me choke up! Maybe I'm just a big marshmallow, but any song that can put a tear in the corner of my eye is a great one as far as I'm concerned, because music can and should plumb the depths of human emotion. Good stuff! Basically, every song on the album is great... melodically rich, technically fantastic, and emotionally deep. Check it out!
Got to see the band in concert recently, and Aoife O'Donovan confirmed that Locust in the Willows is indeed original, and was written by fiddler Brittany Haas (the liner notes probably state this, but I downloaded the album from Amazon, so I've never seen the liner notes).
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2010
Coming just a year after the aptly-named limited release live album Live, Some Strange Country is just what I craved - a combination of the incredible songs from Live with the studio mastering of Crooked Still's last studio album Still Crooked. Lead singer Aoife O'Donovan croons her hauntingly beautiful vocals amidst the inspired playing of Tristan Clarridge (cello), Corey DiMario (upright bass), Gregory Liszt (banjo), and Brittany Haas (violin) and shows that young musicians can, indeed, have old souls.
To current fans: Some Strange Country is another album that will need a permanent residence in your album queue.
To newcomers: Take a listen to a few of the tracks and I'm sure it won't be long before you, too, are a fan.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2011
I listened and listened and listened and I loved what I heard. The music and arrangements are stellar. About the 20th time I listened I thought the singer's voice kind of reminded me of Alison Krause. And that is OK with me. The songs sound like Crooked Still.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2011
This Alt Bluegrass thing is getting out of control, but I call `em as I see `em. Crooked Still's latest CD Some Strange Country is breathtaking! The genre just speaks to me, and the elegant, surreal production here perfectly complements the music. Again, it's not folk, it's not bluegrass - "it's a little bit of both with a slice of cantaloupe." Banjo (Bela-style), violin (fiddle does not do justice here!), upright bass, cello and a subtle orchestral backdrop accompanied by impeccable, crystal-clear vocals reminiscent of Alison Krauss or Heather Masse/The Wailin' Jennys are gently layered over an expansive, contemplative, aural soundscape. Truly fine musicianship, simply perfect voices/harmonies. Elegance in simplicity.
GENRES: Alt Bluegrass.
BUY IF YOU LIKE: The Wailin' Jennys, Heather Masse, Alison Krauss.
MUST HEAR TRACKS: "Henry Lee," "Half of What We Know," "I'm Troubled," "Calvary," "You Were Gone."
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Already impressed with their first album, I am more than pleased to hear this even better album by Crooked Still, a...what?...bluegrass/Americana/folk group, whose banjo and cello are perfect partners to fiddle and guitar and bass. Such a full consort of timbre are joined by solid vocals by Aoife O'Donovan (who wrote two songs) with assist from Ricky Skaggs, Tim O'Brien, Sara Jarosz, and Annalisa Tornfeld on some tracks. Track 3, Distress, is extraordinarily good: A beautiful arrangement, as nearly all the tracks. Indeed, the excellence and balance in the arrangements make this album outstanding, well beyond good bluegrass albums. Track 10's Cold Mountain has some fine banjo pickin' by Gregory Liszt, and what is with that fifth string on the fiddle of Brittany Haas? This band performs with verve and energy. The songs are well chosen to bring a cohesiveness to the album. Even the engineering is vastly improved over their first opus. There have been some wondrous, marvelous groups arising from bluegrass and alternative country these last couple of years who have large ears: Steep Canyon Rangers and Steeldrivers, for instance. With this excellent album, I must put Crooked Still among these bands on the high pedestal. May they continue their musical development and explorations.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I bought "Some Strange Country" on a whim, enticed by the song samples, cover art, and descriptions. Crooked Still offers a fresh-sounding interpretation of traditional, folk, roots, and Celtic music, infusing these songs with modern energy and a creative flair that sparkles on most tracks. Lead singer Aoife O'Donovan could steal the show entirely if her band mates were not so polished themselves.
Go lock the door to your listening space, and play this recording with enough volume to appreciate the grace and skill. The story is that this album came about because the members were trapped by a blizzard while recording in rural Virginia. Here's to more bad weather next time they book studio time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2012
Crooked Still play music that is similar in character to the Cowboy Junkies, but their writing, interpretation and performance are more complex and interesting. I listened to this album once, decided it was just some quiet-evening, glass-of-whiskey kind of music, and shelved it for a year. Then one day, while on a long-distance training run, I listened to it for lack of anything else new on my iPod. The musicianship and eerie, mesmerizing vocals drew me in. There is a lot of space in Crooked Still's music--the quiet between notes, between phrases is what makes it different and genuinely remarkable. Don't play this album as background music for doing something else; sit down and listen.