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Rare, but most welcome, sighting of Crooked Still found

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., December 15, 2019

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

To say that this Crooked Still gig was a rare sighting would be a vast understatement. Aside from a lone gig at FreshGrass in 2017, the six shows by the quintet were its first in eight years.

And at the third of three sold-out shows in its former home base of the Boston area, Crooked Still has not missed a beat.

Crooked Still is a bluegrass-based band that goes a bit beyond that with a cello and occasional other musical sounds.

Vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, banjo player Gregory Liszt, bassist Corey DiMario, cellist Tristan Clarridge and fiddler Brittany Haas comprised one very cohesive, engaging conglomeration.

O'Donovan, who has a solo and band (I'm With Her) going, showcased her pretty vocals that remain a pleasure to listen to. It was clear that she and her mates were enjoying their time with this homecoming for O'Donovan resulting in family in the crowd.

Starting with "Oxford Town," it was clear this was all about being a band. Each member had a chance to shine here and throughout the night. All played a vital role in forging the sound with Clarridge seated and giving the bottom a lot of depth (as did DeMario).

Haas, who started playing with Crooked Still while a student at Princeton, was a tour de force. Her backing vocals to O'Donovan also added a bit of color here and there.

Crooked Still sprinkled the 100-minute show with songs from throughout their catalogue, although ignoring 2008's "Still Crooked" except for "Florence."

There was a lot to like with the song selection as well with some changes apparently from the previous two nights. No matter what they played, this was vintage Crooked Still.

Crooked Still received more familiar help in the encore as original cellist Rushad Eggleston just happened to be playing an early show in the Greater Boston area and showed up in a joker's outfit. Oddball though he may be in appearance, Eggleston was a steady force throughout the four-song encore with "Last Fair Deal Gone Done," one of two Robert Johnson songs ("Ain't No Grave" was the other) performed.

The magical night ended with the standard "Shady Grove" with the crowd gleefully singing along and openers Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar from The Mammals helping out. This was actually a case of returning the favor because O'Donovan helped The Mammals out during their set.

Near the end, O'Donovan told the crowd, "Who knows when we'll get together again, but when we get together, it's a blast."

Yes, the wait was far more than worth it, but listen up Crooked Still - don't leave waiting another eight years before you tour again.

The Mammals opened with a pleasing set of folk rock or maybe rocking folk, a subject they talked about themselves. At times, the lyrics seemed a bit clunky in going for a political framework. Whatever kind of music you call it, The Mammals set proved a welcome addition to the night.