July 29, 2010


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Crooked Still, Some Strange Country
Signature Sounds, May 18
For hipster-baiting faux-Appalachian nu-grass country, you can go with several designs, such as Uncle Earl’s over-the-top-twangy but technically adroit stuff, Sierra Hull’s cutesy bumpkin tude, or Duhks’s deep-southern-fried torch. Or this Boston-born outfit, which formed at New England Conservatory of Music four albums ago and has kept getting better ever since. Their NPR-friendly default mode is a quiet one, Aoife O’Donovan’s shy Alison Kraus-ish soprano flitting in and out of complex lines from Gregory Liszt’s banjo or Brittany Haas’s fiddle. For lack of a better term this has been tagged as folk by some reviewers but it’s really borderline classical if you try to follow along with the ideas — the work from Liszt and Haas is comparable to Infamous Stringdusters at a minimum, but the interplay between the two in the (relative) barnburner “Locust in the Willow” has details that can only be described as exquisite. This all said, my job is to pick nits from perfection’s fur, thus I must blabber that O’Donovan’s melodic ideas can be repetitive (parts of “Cavalry” had me thinking it was a remix of something previous), but overall I’m sure that given the band’s pedigree there’s a very rare level of antebellum authenticity for those who crave it. A Eric W. Saeger