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Crooked Still still crooked

By C. Eric Banister, August 2008

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Joining the group in the studio was producer Eric Merrill, himself a heralded old-time musician noted for his unique blending of Celtic and Appalachian styles. Not only did Merrill bring his unique perspective to the music, he also brought songs to the band.

"Our producer this time was a musical peer and a really good friend of ours," Liszt says. "He also plays fiddle really well and can also make violins and violas really well. Multi-talented individual. He's got a really deep appreciation for old time music and has a real deep knowledge of old time material. He helped us find a lot of the songs; most of them actually. He helped us find those from the archives."

On their previous two albums, Crooked Still presented several well-known traditional songs from "Hop High's" Darling Corey and Rank Stranger to "Shaken By A Low Sounds'" Can't You Hear Me Callin' and Ain't No Grave. For "Still Crooked," the group wanted to delve deeper into the history and tradition of old time music.

The album's opening track, the Ola Belle Reed song Undone By Sorrow, serves to set the tone for the recording in a number of ways. The songs represent the material heard throughout the album, while being new to many and often overlooked by other musicians. The second way is by prominently featuring beautiful solo sections for both Hass' fiddle and Clarridge's cello. But although it serves this purpose, it wasn't necessarily intentional.

"That aspect of the sequencing was incidental; it just seemed to work out," Liszt says. "Sometimes it's just obvious what the first few songs need to be for a whole bunch of different reasons. We pick them mainly just for the musical flow of it, but they also happen to have these shining cello and fiddle moments, which is nice and were a really good way to introduce the new band members to the people picking up the CD for the first time. The sequencing of it was the result of several different reasons, primarily just musical, but also an attempt to introduce the new members as soon as possible."

Several of the songs come from field recordings that consist of little more than a voice with guitar accompaniment, or less. "It leaves a lot of room for creativity," says Liszt whose unique four-finger banjo playing style is as much a signature as the bands cello. "It's good because they anchor you to some point in the tradition, but they don't restrict your movement too much. Some of these were just a lone voice with no harmony, and that's where the fun starts. You get to come at it from a wide-open field."

"We usually start with some sort of general conceptual approach, like, we're going to play this song at a certain energy level with a certain feel or we're going to try to put people into a trance with it, you know, just some kind of idea. Then from there we just try to come up with our parts and layer them together and have fun playing the song a few times trying to come up with different things trying to perfect it."

The band will be perfecting their songs through extensive touring that includes individual show dates as well as a wide range of festivals from Celtic festivals to traditional bluegrass festivals.

"We find a nice little niche for ourselves in every different kind of festival that we play," Liszt says. "At the traditional bluegrass festivals like Grass Valley in California or ROMP in Owensboro, Ky., we're sort of the outside, even slightly edgy, of the bands that they have on the roster, which is good because we're actually not that outside, and we're actually not that edgy. Our music is actually pretty accessible to people, at least we try as hard as we can to make it accessible to people and people usually pay us back by accessing it."

It is accessibility that Liszt likes most about the folk music scene the band calls home. "I'm always saying that the best part of being in folk music is that there are no real boundaries between people," he says. "There's no barrier between the people who listen to the music and the people that play it and there's no real barrier between the people playing the same kind of music, so we can hang out with David Grisman. And we can also hang out with people who just show up to our concerts, and that's pretty great. If you're in the business for the socialization and the hanging out part, like I am, excellent genre to be in."

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