Crooked Still’s Music Gets Straight to Point



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Whether it was the week or so off after returning from a tour of Great Britain, or just the welcoming audience at The Grand, Crooked Still’s performance last week in Ellsworth was a high-energy affair marked by warmth and virtuosity.

 

Bluegrass quintet Crooked Still, including fiddler Brittany Haas, performed to great acclaim at The Grand in Ellsworth on Nov. 11. — ISLANDER PHOTO BY MARK GOOD
Bluegrass quintet Crooked Still, including fiddler Brittany Haas, performed to great acclaim at The Grand in Ellsworth on Nov. 11. — ISLANDER PHOTO BY MARK GOOD

From their opening song, “Calvary,” to an encore of the Keith Richards’ song “You’ve Got the Silver,” the Boston-based quintet demonstrated the close-knit affinity that exists between these high-caliber musicians. Often labeled a bluegrass band, Crooked Still has an innovative approach to old-time music, taking the genre in brave new directions without severing itself from the roots of the tradition.

The set list on Nov. 11 consisted mostly of tunes from the group’s latest album, “Some Strange Country,” intermixed with songs from earlier CDs, including “Shaken By a Low Sound,” which was released in 2006, the last time Crooked Still performed at The Grand.

In 2006, the band was a quartet. Cellist Rushad Eggleston left the band in 2008 and was replaced by fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Tristan Clarridge. The new members not only give the group a wider sonic palette, they bring their own unique musical sensibilities to an already potent mix of talent.

Throughout the concert, Ms. Haas played soaring, high-speed runs on the fiddle that were as satisfying as they were awe-inspiring. Mr. Clarridge did the same on cello, its lower pitch blending nicely with that of its smaller instrumental cousin.

The other three members – bassist Corey DiMario, banjo player Gregory Liszt and vocalist and occasional guitarist Aoife O’Donovan – were equally impressive, each contributing their own poignant musical statements.

But, as individually talented as the members of Crooked Still are, it’s the group interaction that places them among the musical elite. Their sensitive musical interplay and skillful use of dynamics had them sounding alternately like a chamber group and a modern jazz band.

If one were forced to choose the one member who defines the Crooked Still sound, it would have to Ms. O’Dovovan, whose haunting, sensual vocals become the focus for other members to lock into. As Mr. DiMario said in an interview, “it all revolves around Aoife’s singing.”

The music was of such high quality that it is difficult to pick out any one highpoint of the concert. That said, Ms. O’Donovan’s vocals on the Robert Johnson classic “Come In My Kitchen” proved she can go from breathy smokiness to shouting the blues in a single phrase. And Mr. Liszt’s slide banjo on “You’ve Got the Silver” gave new life to the Rolling Stone’s tune.

For their effort, the band was rewarded last week by thunderous applause following each song. Ms. O’Donovan noted the response, saying they have never received such a reception on a Thursday night. She compared them to a Friday or Saturday night crowd. It was obvious she and the other members were delighted. And they can be assured that, no matter what day of the week Crooked Still returns to Hancock County, they’ll get the same reception.

For more arts & entertainment news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

 

Free books for kids

BAR HARBOR — Also, as in years past, the Mount Desert Islander will be conducting its annual “Gift of Reading” book giveaway at which any child, from toddler to teenager, is eligible to pick out a brand new book from hundreds donated by Simon and Schuster.

The book event is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 20, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. in the parlor of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church on Mount Desert Street, adjacent to the Bar Harbor Village Green.

An employee at Simon and Schuster, a former resident of Maine, collects small lots of new books that the publishing giant no longer wants to stock in its warehouse. The books are shipped to Maine and given away by the Islander and its sister paper, The Ellsworth American. Some of the books also are donated to area charities for their gift programs.

“It’s way for us to show our appreciation to the greater Mount Desert Island community for all the support they’ve shown us over the past nine years,” Islander editor Earl Brechlin said.

It is also a key part of the paper’s efforts to promote literacy that include Newspaper in Education in area schools.

More than 1,000 books have been given away in recent years.

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