Covers torn from other acts’ songbooks don’t generally sound as vital and vibrant as the arrangements Crooked Still gives to them.
There’s got to be some kind of law against covering Beatles songs in the Great Book of Musicology. The reason being is that, well, how can you ever expect to top the originals, which are so startling, so good, so epically ingrained in the consciousness of millions of listeners? Topping the Fab Four is next to impossible, so why even try, right? Despite such reservations, the Boston-based acoustic folk-bluegrass band Crooked Still decided to take a crack at “We Can Work It Out” on their latest release, the Friends of Fall EP, which is meant to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary by offering cover versions of songs such as the aforementioned Beatles track and Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. But I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Crooked Still delivers a spry and nimble finger-picked version of the aforementioned Beatles song, and take the familiar and spin it upside down. Honestly, you’ve never heard the Beatles quite like this. Will it make you forget the original? No. Does it work as a startling reinterpretation of something that is overtly familiar almost to the point of expiry? Pretty much. If you’re the type of person who feels they can go on throughout life without hearing something by the original deal ever again, there’s a chance that you might enjoy Crooked Still’s take on the song.
However, where the group is at its strongest is when it isn’t actually translating other songs by other acts, but taking poetry and weaving it into a web of its own. The album’s best track is “The Peace of Wild Things/Dayblind”, which is a reading of a Wendell Berry poem. Vocalist Aoife O’Donovan croons a mournful lament against stabbing fiddles and gently plucked banjos, before the track, a little more than halfway through, picks up and turns into pure bluegrass fever with some fast and frenetic fretwork. Despite such a highlight in crafting quasi-original material, the Friends of Fall EP, as a covers album, isn’t a bad way to wish Happy Birthday to 10 years of being in business. Overall, the band shares some stark similarities to labelmates Joy Kills Sorrow, except Crooked Still is perhaps a little touch more melancholic than their peers in the other band. And despite the paucity of original material on the extended play, the group certainly knows its way around a well-worn and familiar tune. If you happen to like bluegrass, and if you happen to appreciate some of the artists given the covers treatment here, you will view the Friends of Fall EP as an embarrassment – an embarrassment of riches, that is. Covers torn from other acts’ songbooks don’t generally sound as vital and vibrant as the arrangements Crooked Still gives to them. Friends of Fall is definitely well worth a listen.