It takes courage to release the security of the familiar and embrace change. After five years of touring and establishing themselves as "the most important folk group to emerge from Boston since the early 60's"(Boston Globe), Crooked Still announced that cellist Rushad Eggleston would leave the group in November of 2007. The solid foundation they built as a group earned them invitations from huge events like the historic Newport and Telluride Festivals and numerous rave reviews from publications like USA Today and Interview Magazine. Crooked Still was now on the cusp of a new musical chapter.
The quintet became five with the addition of fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Tristan Clarridge. Lead vocalist Aoife O'Donovan told No Depression magazine, "When you're in a quartet, and one of your members who's been a huge creative part of your sound decides to leave, it definitely crosses your mind to just not do it. But we had spent five years building a name for ourselves. And if you look at almost every band that's successful, there's been line-up changes."
If the first album from the new line-up is any indication, success for this young band will be explosive. Crooked Still continues to perform one of the most compelling forms of alternative bluegrass and string band music today.
The new five-member band converged to mingle their creative processes at Allaire, a studio in upstate New York, with producer Eric Merrill for Still Crooked. The album, to be released on the Signature Sounds on June 24, 2008, balances unknown traditional material with three new tunes from the band, along with "Did You Sleep Well?" by fellow old time musician Nathan Taylor and a Mississippi John Hurt standard. The entire album was recorded "live" in one big room, with everyone playing together. Merrill captured most songs in one or two takes. "I was outside in the hallway, because my voice is so quiet," O'Donovan says. "Recording live, you don't have an option to overdub; that always makes a better album."
With Haas and Clarridge, the band has proven themselves to be even more adventurous, breathing their cosmic fire into old songs. "When Rushad left, we wanted to move in new directions," O'Donovan says. "Brittany adds another female presence to the band; I can hear my voice in her fiddling. Tristan has a refined cello tone, with a powerful, restrained energy. They bring a fresh outlook to the arrangements that keeps the music exciting."
"We rehearsed for a few days before we recorded," Clarridge says. "We'd listen to a source recording, strip the songs to the bone and build an arrangement incorporating everyone's ideas. It's fun to see how many directions you can take a song." Everyone brought material for consideration. "As we worked on the songs, we realized there was a lot of loss and mortality in the lyrics," banjo player Greg Liszt adds. "You can't make a folk album without delving into what's happening now and we were surprised at how current the songs sounded. On 'Captain, Captain' a woman asks what happened to her lover and the Captain replies 'he dropped down dead in the gulf.' It's a 400-year-old line, but it gives you chills."
Still Crooked is an ensemble effort of inspired music making that moves the bands' impossible to pigeonhole style in new directions while honoring their folk roots. "It's hard to pin down our music," bass player Corey DiMario says. "We play improvised old time music, bluegrass, folk and our own songs within the broad context of a string band. Like a lot of today's bands, we have modern and traditional influences that confuse the boundaries. We want to keep blurring those lines to make something all our own."
Crooked Still's genre-bending sound is the combination of five distinctive talents who are not content to limit themselves to any one project or style of music. While Crooked Still is the main band for these talented players, all are involved in other projects.
Each individual contribution is enriched by the multidimensionality of their creative wellspring. Together, they have uncovered new facets of brilliance on Still Crooked. The genesis of the group continues to evolve. Much like moonshine distilled in the apparatus that inspired their name, Crooked Still is still fermenting. And the music on Still Crooked is undeniably intoxicating.