April 02, 2020

Boston’s Crooked Still puts bluegrass spin on songs of past

ELLSWORTH – The cello and the double-bass aren’t expected instruments in a bluegrass band.

But then, Crooked Still, set to play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth, is used to doing the unexpected.

The Boston-area quartet is making waves with its neo bluegrass sound. Band members take public-domain songs and put their own spin on them, using their unique instrumentation. Esteemed music critic Greil Marcus said of them, “The songs to which Crooked Still now applies itself were made to capture whole countries of experience, fantasy, forgetting, revenge, guilt and escape. … The band takes up the songs as if they contain knowledge far beyond any person who might sing them.”

The group’s vocalist, Aoife O’Donovan put it more simply in a recent phone interview: “We listen to a lot of old folk music, and any song we think we can make sound good, we go for it. It’s kind of an organic process.”

O’Donovan grew up in a musical household, with lots of folk music around, and her father had his own radio show, and was heavily into the Irish music scene.

Crooked Still had its beginning in 2001, when O’Donovan and double-bassist Chris DiMario were classmates at the New England Conservatory of Music. Cellist Rushad Eggleston, who attended Berklee College of Music, and banjo player Gregory Liszt, who earned a doctorate in biology at MIT, soon joined up.

This year’s debut album on Signature Sounds, “Shaken by a Low Sound,” offers a blend of legacy songs, both well known and obscure, as well as covers of Bob Dylan’s “Oxford Town,” Robert Johnson’s “Come on My Kitchen” and Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling.”

O’Donovan sees more young people embracing older songs.

“A lot of young people are attending [folk and bluegrass] festivals, and there’s more young musicians coming up [in those genres],” she said. “It’s definitely on the college-radio scene. Folk music has a much larger place these days.”

For tickets, call The Grand box office at 667-9500.

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