So, the performers are schooled at Berklee and New England's Conservatory of Music rather than the front porches of Kentucky, song selection includes Bob Dylan and Robert Johnson, not Ralph Stanley, the banjoist's last name is Liszt, and a featured instrument is a cello? And they call this bluegrass? Well, yeah, they do, and while in the traditional sense Crooked Still is more jazzy folk than hardcore high-lonesome, the Boston-based quartet has learned its bluegrass lessons well.
Singer Aoefie O'Donovan's folkie-hued vocals float through and above the band's deceptively intricate harmonies. Gregory Liszt, who toured this year in Springsteen's Pete Seeger Sessions Band, is a riveting picker, who also deftly blends his banjo with Rushad Eggleson's cello.
Crooked Still makes up for a lack of original material by drawing on tasty covers, giving a unique yet reverent read to Bill Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Callin'" and a lightning-fast version of Dylan's "Oxford Town."
Call it calculated restraint, as if they're taking their first big test and are doing their best not to fail, but Crooked Still's album passes with flying colors.