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Crooked Still comes home again

Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Mass., March 21, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The show was the final date of the current tour for Crooked Still and a welcome one at that considering that the country/bluegrass/folk band sold out the same theatre that U2 had played earlier in the month. (Okay, well it only seats 900, teensy for U2, but probably about as big as it gets for Crooked Still).

Over the course of two sets, the quintet showed that it developed a sturdy chemistry with excellent players and quality songs. Theirs was not the type of music that you are going to hear on commercial radio, but that obviously wasn't what they are striving for either.

Crooked Still mixed it up with selections from their three discs, including last year's very fine "Still Crooked" along with new material slated to appear on their next studio disc. In other words, there was something for everyone from old to brand new.

Aoife O'Donovan is the focal point as lead singer. She has an often pretty, breathy voice, although a bit less of the latter than the band's last outing at Club Passim in the summer. And unlike the Passim show, O'Donovan's vocals could almost always be heard above the music, a problem at the previous gig, (It should be noted, however, that some in the balcony said they had trouble hearing her vocals clearly).

But she was not the only element in the sound. In this very democratic band, she leaves a lot of room for the other four members to shine. That would be Greg Liszt on banjo, who plays with a lot of understatement, but is stellar. He also has a keen sense of humor. Bassist Corey DiMario often anchored the songs underneath. And the two newest members - Tristan Clarridge on cello and Princeton senior Brittany Haas on fiddle - fit in to the point that "newest members" should soon be removed from their prefix. The two replaced Rushad Eggleston on cello, who left to do his own thing.

As for the material, Crooked Still was comfy with whatever style they played. Perhaps the best song of the night was the bluesy Come On In My Kitchen from "Shaken By a Low Sound" near the end of the regular set where O'Donovan showed she could sing that style as well. It's a dark, sad song with a lot of life in the hands of Crooked Still. New songs such as The Golden Vanity, Neil Young's Harvest Moon and a song about immigrants (maybe called First in the Country) sounded about as good as the older material.

O'Donovan clearly was happy to be back home before a friendly crowd. That could put more pressure on a band, but Crooked Still was more than up to the task over 110 minutes. The audience apparently felt so as well, standing, singing and clapping along to the usual Crooked Still closer, Shady Grove, an invigorating moment during another good night of musical fun from Crooked Still.