Archive for the Crooked Still Category

Best of 2010: 15-13

Posted in Crooked Still, Jenny and Johnny, jenny lewis, Justin Townes Earle, Top 21 of 2010 on December 22, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#15 – I’m Having Fun Now by Jenny & Johnny

Jenny is former Rilo Kiley front woman and indie rock goddess Jenny Lewis.  Johnny is singer/songwriter/producer Johnathan Rice.  The two started working together when Rice appeared on Lewis’ 2005 album Rabbit Fur Coat. They continued to record and tour together as their musical relationship turned into a personal one.  Rice was so largely involved in Lewis’ 2008 release Acid Tongue that it only seemed natural that the pair would release their newest effort as a duo project with both of their names on the record.

And while Lewis may be the bigger name of the two, it is important to note that this is a fully collaborative effort with each getting a chance to shine.  In fact, Rice’s voice is the first you hear on record on the punchy and poppy album opener, “Scissor Runner.”  Still, I find myself drawn more to the tracks like “My Pet Snakes” and “Just Like Zeuss” where Lewis has the lead.  Those tracks play like lost sessions from Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous (one of my all-time albums) with Rice playing Blake Sennett’s role as sideman.  No matter who leads on each track, Jenny & Johnny have managed to make a record that is simply a lot of fun.

Jenny & Johnny: My Pet Snakes (Buy Album)

#14 – Harlem River Blues by Justin Townes Earle

There’s no real sense in rehashing Justin Townes Earle’s origins one more time in this space.  I’ve done it a few times already.  Suffice to say that Earle is the son of one legend, bears the name of another, and has already done enough in his short career to create a legacy all his own and independent of his father and his namesake.  His previous effort, 2009’s Midnight at the Movies was handily selected as last year’s best album by a panel of Americana bloggers.

This year, Earle returns with Harlem River Blues.  It’s an ambitious album that straddles the lines of many forms of American roots music.  The breezy folk of “Wanderin'” easily gives way to the bluesy soul of “Slippin’ and Slidin'” and the up-tempo gospel rhythms of the title track.  Incidentally, the title track is also as infectious a tune about planned suicide as I can ever remember hearing.

I was a little distracted with life when this album first came out, so I didn’t really sit with it until I started working on this list.  It was unranked in my first draft, but slowly crept up the board in subsequent drafts until settling here at #14.   A few more weeks with it, and it may have cracked the Top 10.

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Buy Album)

#13 – Some Strange Country by Crooked Still

First off, I just want to say that no one else sounds like Crooked Still.  Their unique instrumentation that includes a cello and a double bass as part of the line-up gives their music a darkness that is largely absent in other contemporary string bands.  I remember hearing their version of “Ain’t No Grave” in 2006 as part of the house music at a venue in Asheville while waiting for an Adrienne Young concert.  I had never heard Crooked Still’s music before, and I was haunted by that song for a long while before I came to realize who was singing it.

Now it’s four years later, and I’m still haunted by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan and crew on the new CD Some Strange Country.  And I think haunted is the right word due to the murder ballads and other tales of woe and sorrow that make up the bulk of the record.  When I reviewed the album earlier this year for Country Standard Time, I used words like ghostly and chilling to describe the band’s sound and subjects.  I think both of those words fit the song I’m sharing here.  This is the traditional tune “The Golden Vanity” featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals.

Crooked Still: The Golden Vanity (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Crooked Still

Posted in Crooked Still on July 10, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

You can read my review of the new album from Crooked Still over at Country Standard Time. And while you’re doing that… here are a couple of YouTube videos of songs from the album.

Childsplayers: Aoife O’Donovan & Lissa Schneckenburger

Posted in Aoife O'Donovan, Crooked Still, Lissa Schneckenberger on August 6, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

On Tuesday, I told you about Childsplay, a group primarily composed of musicians united by the fact that they all play violins crafted by the same man… Bob Childs. I also promised to share with you some music from a couple of the musicians involved in the project. That’s why we’re here today.


We’ll start today with Aoife O’Donovan. O’Donovan (in the center of the picture above, wearing glasses) is the voice of Childsplay, but is most widely known as the vocalist for the contemporary bluegrass band Crooked Still. She actually founded the band in 2001 when she was asked to assemble a group for a concert at the New England Conservatory of Music.

The band has made quite a name for itself over the last decade by bringing their own unique sound to traditional stringband music. Their sound is defined by unique instrumentation that, in the early days of the band, often consisted of only banjo, cello, and double bass. A recent line-up change added Brittany Haas on fiddle and Tristan Clarridge on cello to go along with original members O’Donovan, bassist Corey DiMario, and banjo virtuoso Greg Liszt.

Here are two tracks from Cooked Still. The first is Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” the lead track from their 2006 album Shaken By a Low Sound. It showcases the band in its original configuration of bass, banjo, cello, and vocals to stunning effect. I’m also sharing the traditional “Tell Her to Come Back Home” from 2008’s Still Crooked. This showcases the band in it’s current incarnation and lets the fiddles run a bit. Tim O’Brien provides guest vocals.
Crooked Still: Can’t You Hear Me Calling (Buy Album)
Crooked Still: Tell Her to Come Back Home (Buy Album)

The second artist I’d like to share today is fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger. Like O’Donovan, Schneckenburger is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and a member of Childsplay.

Schneckenburger hails from Maine and has been playing the fiddle since she was six years old and is now an accomplished singer/songwriter and a true student of the instrument she wields. Her primary influences come from the traditional music of New England and the Canadian coast. She recently spent time digging through the music archives of the University of Maine to try to rediscover some forgotten tunes of the region. In 2008 Schneckenberger released a collection of those forgotten ballads called Song. She is currently working on a follow-up collection of old time fiddle tunes called Dance.
I was first introduced to Schneckenburger’s music in 2005 when I received a copy of her self-titled release. I immediately fell in love with an instrumental track from the album called “Melissa without the Me/Eric’s Birthday.” I played it constantly on Americana Crossroads at the time, and I’d like to share it with you here. I’m also sharing one called “Like the Snow” from her 2001 album Different Game (with thanks to Cover Lay Down for introducing me to the tune).
Lissa Schneckenburger: Melissa without the Me/Eric’s Birthday (Buy Album)
Lissa Schneckenburger: Like the Snow (Buy Album)
Just for fun… here’s some YouTube goodness from both artists…