Bill Monroe often referred to his music as "the high lonesome sound." Given its title you might assume Crooked Still's Shaken by A Low Sound CD to be a musical opposite. But Crooked Still draws heavily on bluegrass and other roots traditions to create thoroughly modern music. On Shaken… your expectations of how bluegrass and old-time classics should be performed will be turned on its ear.
Even Crooked Still's instrumentation will raise some eyebrows. Aoife O'Donovan plays guitar and handles most of the vocals, which is pretty standard, but after that things get slightly weird. Rashad Eggleston plays cello, flatpicked cello, and adds some vocals, Gregory Liszt plays banjo and Corey DiMario plays double bass. That's it. Not the usual set of instruments you'd find in a bluegrass or folky band. Guest artists on Shaken by a Low Sound include Casey Driessen on fiddle, Scott Amendola on percussion, and Ruth Ungar, John McDonald, Laurie Lewis, and Tom Rozum on harmony vocals.
Crooked Still formed in 2001 when New England Conservatory classmates O'Donovan and DiMario began playing with Berklee School of Music student Eggleston and MIT advanced biology doctoral candidate Liszt. Boston audiences immediately took to this unusual musical amalgam, and they've been playing together ever since. Although their orchestration is unique, their arrangements are not as far outside as what you'll hear on Darol Anger's Republic of Strings or Casey Driessen's recent solo CD. Often the Crooked Still modus involves slowing down the pace of a fast song such as Bill Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Calling." They add a sinuous backbeat so the song shimmies rather than runs. On the old standard "Little Saddie" Crooked Still only slow it down a bit, but it's still enough to add a funky backbeat cello chop. On Bob Dylan's "Oxford Town" they speed up the pace, but they still add a serious backbeat chop via the double bass and cello. Crooked Still champion a form of white acoustic funk similar to some tunes from Nickel Creek, Old School Freight Train, and Darol Anger's bands, but they bring it on with a bit more hardcore conviction.
Shaken by A Low Sound has a wonderful acoustic ambience. The cello's chop has just a touch of reverberation and the double bass blooms with a round and full authority that will make your stereo's low frequency drivers sit up and roll over. Aoife O'Donovan's voice has a slightly raspy quality that in the hands of a less sympathetic recording engineer than Adam Munoz 'could sound downright scratchy, but here it serves as perfect counterpoint to the cello and double bass's low frequency sonorities. Yep, this disk puts the A back into acoustic.
Ready for something different? Shaken by a Low Sound serves up a healthy helping of new, but never loses track of what it takes to make a serious musical groove.