CD Reviews: Crooked Still, Eef Barzelay, and Drew Emmitt
Crooked Still, “Still Crooked” With their last album, “Shaken by a Low Sound,” Crooked Still put themselves on the map as one of the brightest lights in the newgrass movement – taking traditional bluegrass and melding it with contemporary sounds. The quartet of singer Aiofe O’Donovan, banjo player extraoridinaire Greg Liszt, double bassist Corey DiMario, and eccentric cellist Rushad Eggleston mixed gorgeous vocals with wild and virtuosic playing to create a unique take on old folk and blues tunes. But it seems clear that there just wasn’t enough room on the stages they performed for the egos and talent in the group. Eggleston departed and Crooked Still had a decision to make: disband or continue on. They chose the latter, and we’re glad they did. The band is back with two new members, fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Tristan Clarridge, and a new album. On “Still Crooked,” the band continues its quest of taking traditional Celtic and blues songs and turning them on their heads. Songs like “Undone Sorrow,” “Florence” and the haunting “Pharoah” feature O’Donovan’s stunningly beautiful vocals folded gently around fiddle, banjo and cello. On “The Absentee,” the band shows they still can get a little wild. Do they miss Eggleston’s wild-eyed craziness? Well, yes. The crazy-guy cellist added a sense of danger to the music. A song like the Mississippi John Hurt standard “Did You Sleep Well?” could use a little more of that danger. But we’re pretty sure that with time this version of the band will find it’s own wild-and-crazy personality.
Eef Barzelay, “Lose Big”
More than once Eef Barzelay has disbanded his group Clem Snide and decided to make a go of it on his own. While his decision this time is shrouded in mystery, some of the song titles on his new solo album, “Lose Big” – “Could Be Worse” and “True Freedom,” to name a few – may give some notion of his liberation, from the band or otherwise. No matter, the Nashville-by-way-of-Israel songwriter still has his patented dry humor in place. Clem Snide was an alt-country-leaning band that packed a bunch of “snide” commentary into the lyrics. And on “Lose Big,” Barzelay has not wandered to far from that engaging formula. On “Could Be Worse,” he sings over a Neil Young-ish dirty guitar line “Show me the bright side and I’ll look till my eyes catch fire/Please forgive me if you leave me feeling uninspired/ My only pleasure is to make that bubble burst/I can find comfort in the fact that it could be worse.”
Drew Emmitt, “Long Road” “Lord you know I’ve been so many places/At least I know I have a longer view,” sings Drew Emmitt on the title track to his new CD, “Long Road. And that simply sums up where Emmit, the mandolin player extraordinaire from the jam band Leftover Salmon is coming from. The songs on this, his third solo effort, are filled with rollicking bluegrass and steeped in “on the road” experience. Mingling alongside his orginals “Into the Distance” and “Cloud City” are covers of Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home,” Marshall Tucker’s “Take the Highway,” and Van Morrison’s “Gypsy in My Soul,” all given the high energy, finger-picking deliciousness of top bluegrass personnel, including members of the Infamous Stringdusters, String Cheese Incident and banjo wiz Alison Brown. In all, “Long Road” is a fun ride, full of stories of where Emmitt has been and the friends he’s met along the way.