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Crooked Still: A Sound All Their Own

29 April 2011

I can’t think of another string band that has a more distinctive sound than Crooked Still.  I recently talked with the group about its musical identity. Was having such an identifiable sound a blessing or a curse? Did they consciously maintain a specific style, or did it just happen organically? Here’s what they told me…

It’s a measure of Crooked Still’s influence that you can no longer simply identify it as “the band with the cello.” Even so, the cello has been and continues to be essential to defining the group’s sound. When he joined the group in 2007, cellist Tristan Clarridge took on a seemingly impossible job: filling the shoes of the group’s original cellist, Rushad Eggleston. Eggleston essentially invented a new technique for his instrument, adapting the crisp chop developed by Richard Greene and Darol Anger to produce a complex and percussive rhythmic foundation. Clarridge had apprenticed with Anger in his Republic of Strings ensemble, so he was uniquely suited to take over for Eggleston. These days, working in concert with bassist Corey DiMario, Clarridge lays down a groove on many up-tempo tunes that will shake the rafters.

Another trademark of Crooked Still is its penchant for rediscovering old songs. The band clearly has spent many an hour listening to field recordings by itinerant folklorists. I assume this in how they came upon the song featured in the video clip above— “Cold Mountains.” Alan Lomax recorded the Appalachian singer Texas Gladdens singing this elegant ballad several decades ago. As is their wont, the band polishes up and adds color to their arrangement while remaining quite faithful to the melody and lyrics.

“Cold Mountains” is included on Crooked Still’s most recent release, Some Strange Country. When I first heard it, I thought it might be an original composition. Over the years, members of the band have written a number of their own tunes, an accomplishment for which they don’t receive sufficient credit. Come to think of it, my confusion could be held up as further proof of the group’s unique musical identity. Whether they are playing an ancient tune, a song by the Rolling Stones or an original number, their sound is always entirely their own.

There’s more from Crooked Still yet to come, but this is an opportune moment to thank the band once again for sitting for their collective portrait. A special tip of the hat to the group’s label as well, which is named— appropriately enough— Signature Sounds.

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2 comments

  1. I am looking forward to seeing Crooked Still at Grey Fox, hopefully on the main stage after dark this year, they deserve it!

    With the exception of one member, all have graced the notloB folk concert series in JP and Somerville (Aoife twice (once with Sometymes Why, once as a special guest), Corey once, Brittany once, Tristan three times (once with the Bee Eaters, once with Jeremy Kittel and once backing Lissa Schneckenburger) and GL is welcome any time!).

    For all the Rushad Eggleston fans out there, I invite you to come see his current band, Tornado Rider, Saturday May 7 in Somerville. This will be Tornado Rider’s third notloB appearance.

    Facebook event – https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=119880428090686
    Website http://sites.google.com/site/notlobmusic


  2. I have been enjoying your blogs on Crooked Still. Your insights have added depth to my appreciation of their music and now you will have to pardon me while I surf off to Amazon to purchase a couple of their CDs. You would make a great crack dealer, Cousin Curly.



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