Crooked House Road
is available at:
20th May, 2015
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
The album Crooked House Road is available at:
THERE has been a lot rattling around my mind…
when it comes to the music industry. I have been seeing a lot of (disappointing music): a lot of it stemming from the band market. Muse releases their new album (Drones) on Monday: an album that by all accounts, is receiving tepid reviews. Too much pretentious; little direction; weak lyrics- Muse not really taking things forward. I worry about ‘mainstream bands’: acts who have been around the block; know what they are doing- know what their fans want. Away from them, the (likes of) The Libertines and Radiohead (have albums ahead): I hope that these two acts- who are among my all-time favourites- do not disappoint. I wonder whether ‘personal issues’/stresses cause qualitative issues: Matt Bellamy (having separated from wife Kate Hudson) has channeled his anger into the music- it seems flailing and directionless. Others bands- around the mainstream- have experienced similar woes: letting their personal issues cloud their talent. You can find much more quality (and dependability) among solo acts: no band-mates to squabble with; more focus on the actual music process- fewer relationship quibbles. That may be a black-and-white overstatement- and not entirely true- but there is something in it: music (from solo acts) seems more electrifying and interesting; more promise and nuance- less disappointment, at least. When we look at ‘new music’- bands and acts starting to peek through- there is more maturity: how often do you see new acts go through relationship heartache; have meltdowns and tantrums- the eye is clearly trained towards success/quality. That said, issues like money (finding funds to launch music/continue a career), promotional stresses (and the amount of work that is needed) causes frictions: I have seen some great bands hit the rocks. Diversity helps; solid friendships are vital; a single voice is crucial- each member working towards the same ideal. Crooked House Road are different it seems: they have a boy-girl formation; close-knit bonds; no sense of unease or anger- they are a free-spirited and uplifting act (from Toronto). Being in my position- and veritable cat-nip for Canadian musicians- I see a lot of the country (I seem especially popular around Ontario- for whatever mystical reason). Before I go into more detail- give you the run-down on the band- let me (let them) introduce them:
Shaina Silver-Baird Mirian Kay Tom Mifflin Derek Gray Darren Eedens Josh Engel Gram Whitty
“Crooked House Road is a Toronto-based indie-folk band that sets simple storytelling against lush harmonies and a bluesy backdrop to create an intimate live experience not to be missed. Vocalist/violinist Shaina Silver-Baird formed Crooked House Road in 2013 as a vehicle to bring her lyrics and music to life. Mirian Kay (vocalist/guitarist) has been right by Shaina's side onstage and through the songwriting process, and together they have collaborated with contributing artists including Tom Mifflin, Darren Eedens, Derek Gray, Gram Whitty and Josh Engel, among others. Recently they have played alongside The Lovely Feathers (EMI) and Juno nominee Annabelle Chvostek. They are currently recording their first full length album with Grammy nominee and Juno winning producer Ken Whiteley.”
Shaina Silver-Baird (is C.H.R.’s) stunning lead: an immensely captivating woman; a stunning beauty- a wonderful musician. Joining with her (musical brothers and sisters) Crooked House Road are a rare treat: their mix of Bluegrass-cum-Indie magic is insatiable. With their debut (self-titled) album on the market- a phenomenal achievement; I shall touch more on it in the final stages of this review- the band are on the rise. Silver-Baird’s (stunningly evocative and scenic) words lead the charge: her talented crew lends their colour and candour- the resultant music is breath-taking to behold. The Toronto band- unlike most of their contemporaries- has a talent for cross-pollination: mixing genres and styles; fusing cultures and time periods. From Bluegrass and Indie, the band traverses R ‘n’ B through African music: all propelled by soaring harmonies and ethereal sighs. This year has been productive and fruitful (for the fledgling act): since they formed (back in 2013) the band have honed their sound; expanded their ambitions- their debut album is the summation of their promise and individuality. One of the most arresting and stunning acts about; the guys are a serious force- the future will be very bright indeed.
For those of you (trying to compare Crooked House Road) with another: you have a hard time ahead. Playing such unique music- and having a distinct projection- there are few that equal them. In terms of country-man acts, you could check out The Be Good Tanyas- a Vancouver-based act (making Bluegrass music) of supreme confidence. Both uplifting and divine, Crooked’ match their splendor and urgency. Although not as ethereal (as Crooked House Road), The Be Good’ have some comparable threads: the superb harmonies; the personal-cum-everyman lyrics; the emotional compositions. Elliott Brood- based out of Toronto- is a faster (and more frenetic) Bluegrass equivalent- who offers a mixture of Pop, Indie and Folk (into the bargain). The Wailin’ Jennys (are probably the best) ‘sound-alike’ act: those who come closest to distilling Crooked House Road’s ethics and sounds. The Winnipeg wonders are female-only songsters; brimming with insatiable harmonies- sparring Bluegrass traditions with modern Pop sounds. Crooked House Road is part of (Canada’s growing) Bluegrass sect: a genre that is synonymous with beauty, power and potential. Separating from the pack, Crooked’ outrank their peers: better harmonies (more stirring and striking); keener insights (more cutting and nuanced lyrics); stronger songs- that beg you to keep coming back for more. It is not just Silver-Baird’s personality and strengths (many of them) that define the band: they are strongest when united and in-step; each member brings their own talents to the show. To my mind, Fleet Foxes are the best comparisons: in terms of strength and quality. The Washington Folk band- who has produced two phenomenal L.P.s- comes to my thoughts. Their vocal harmonies- otherworldly and heaven-sent- sit with evocative lyrics (that look at nature, retreat; introspection and the larger world) - backed with some tremendous compositions. Crooked House Road should be proud; I can see them producing their own Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes 2011 masterpiece). Satisfying, self-assured (and hysterically beautiful), Fleet’ marry Bluegrass with Folk- music of the highest order. Crooked House Road is in their infancy: putting their initial steps together; growing by the year- it will not be long until they challenge (the regent heights of Fleet Foxes).
The here and now is…well, here. Mountain is causing a lot of commotion: reviewers (and press alike) are salivating with delights- fans love what they hear. Having just completed (a stop-me-if-you-can rotation of Mykonos- Fleet Foxes at their best) I was captivated by Mountain- a song that boasts similar etherealness and divinity. Starting life with languid and aching vocals- Silver-Baird stretches her voice; her healingly scent climbs into the atmosphere- “I scream to the mountain” she sings with pride. Semi-operatic and huge; intimate and tender: the opening moments are a mixture of sensitivity and declaration. Our heroine is in the open; giving her voice to the mountain- her thoughts leading the charge. Past the 0:30 mark, her comrades come into the fray: blending their tones, the shivers begin- a delicious cocktail of male-female voices; a sweet harmony of bliss. Filled with energetic rush- and a heady cognation of Folk/Bluegrass strings- the song kicks up a gear. With our lead in pensive mood (“Can’t see no heaven’s gate”), the song comes back down- there is a terrific blend of fast and beautiful; refrained and focused- for some investigation. Words paint pictures of spoke-grabbing, wind-blowin’ drama: our heroine has a way with words (few of her stablemates possess); painting images of yearning love and letting go- lyrics that can be interpreted differently (depending on your psyche). Propelled with finger-picking guitar (an authentic representation of ‘traditional Bluegrass’ tones), the song breathes and runs- the momentum and passion never relents. Amidst the soothing (and uplifting) vocals- that have some Doo-Wop/Swing qualities to them- the words start to resonate: both oblique and direct; poetic and personal- you start to imagine scenarios. Silver-Baird looks at mortality and meaning; affirmation and redemption- “The sky laughed a mortal joke” and “The water creeps higher” are two of the most immediate (and memorable) lyrical images. With her mind cast- and her soul being discarded and overlooked- our heroine changes her voice: it has a sense of sneer and dismissal; a go-with-the-flow feel- there is never an overly-anxious tone; nothing insincere or forced. When delivering (latter-moment verses)- “The sea, the sun, the rock, the moon/I’m too young, it’s all too soon…”- Silver-Baird adds accent and urgency- you can tell these words resonate with her. Just as you start to settle in, that rush comes back: the vocals climb (and elongate); the composition tangles and dances- our heroine lets her voice hit (a pin-sharp) high; the song’s most healingly moment. When the chorus is repeated- what creeping; flames of fire; pushing back home- the band lead in unison: voices combine; the words are teed-up and vibrant. Both catchy and impassioned, it is a terrific (and terrifically memorable) chorus: designed to get one singing along; moving their feet to the rhythm. As the song concludes, the fervency never desists: the moment is over too soon- the song ends its campaign.
Congratulations go to the entire band: each member is expert and intuitive; focused and passionate- which gives Mountain such strength and wonder. Silver-Baird leads terrifically; the vocal is sensational and gripping- her words whip up all kinds of images (few songwriters can wield the pen in quite the same way). With violin in hand, her colleagues add their own weight: the harmonies are electric and unforgettable; the strings (and beats) ready and ripe- the composition is filed with Bluegrass ache; Pop passion- with Folk romance thrown in. Spectral and special, the band is tight and close: they clearly have a great respect for one another. Mountain is a song that implores (the feet to move) and lifts the spirit: inventive and original, here is a unique band- that supersedes expectations and (the homogenised sounds of the scene). The lead-off track from Crooked House Road- and a perfect introduction to their craft and sound- the song is a huge triumph. Ken Whiteley- a Juno-winning, Grammy-nominated producer- helms the album: ensuring each song bristles with energy and light; gets straight into the pre-frontal cortex (and seduces every ear). With Silver-Baird up top, the band is on a mission: one of the strongest (and most insatiable) acts about- they will be (relatively) anonymous no longer. Mountain is a testament of collective will: that desire to have fun and inspire; motivate and compel listeners- whilst showing (their peers) what is possible.
I have been skeptical about (reviewing Canadian music): about 90% of all requests emanate her- being London-based I want to focus on homegrown/different music (not just that which hails from Canada). Having imposed an embargo- or some rules at least- I am surveying a Canadian act (every 2-3 months). I am glad Crooked House Road did not pass me by: it would have been a huge error to overlook them. From Silver-Baird’s otherworldly beauty (her lyrics, instrumentation and vocals) to Mirian Kay’s intuitive support and talent- not overlooking the rest of the band who are stunning musicians/vocalists- and you have a serious proposition. In the U.K. - when it comes to new bands at least- we do not have Our Very Own Crooked House Road: a mixed-gender group who play Bluegrass/Indie sounds; have stirring harmonies- do things the same way. Sure, there are similar acts: yet none who are quite as mesmeric and memorable. Perhaps it is our (different and particular) culture; maybe we are more predictable: I hope musicians (over here) look at a wonderful act- take their merits on board. On that point, I want the band to come play here: London would love to house them; how could they resist their psychotropic spine-shiver? Whether they (require some financing and fan demand) or prefer Canadian audiences, we shall see: their debut album is gathering some pace. Their (self-titled) album is bound with wisdom, sensuality and storytelling: a concoction of true-to-life honesty; romantic desire; stunning highs. Across the ten tracks- my highlights are Tell Me A Story, Racin’ and Mountain- you get a lot of diversity: new stories and scenes; plenty of wonder- the band amaze (across every track). The band- and their leading heroine- seem at ease and relaxed: their music comes across effortless and instinctive- although tight and well-rehearsed. Silver-Baird would feel at home in London: the mix of cultures (our capitlal is famed for) comes out in her words; the bustle and cosmopolitanism (of London’s clans and streets) reflects in the sounds: variegated and multi-national. It is the strength and vitality that strikes hardest: that empowered kick that is impossible to ignore- a pavement-pounding slam that gets into your heart; into the brain (and never lets go). Maybe I am being overly-romantic, but (Silver-Baird) has a way of speaking to the masses: writing words that represent the city-dwelling dreamer; the woods-loving naturalist- the honest and earnest lovers. The entire band has a close bond (that defines their music); a real knowing and understanding- they blend with supreme confidence; that natural kinship- every note produces something quite amazing. I shall end this review- alas I ramble once more- returning to my (original point): concerning band break-ups/stresses; that uncertain sense of quality and control- the capricious nature of the music-lover. Canadian musicians are among the most fertile and distinct: refusing to settle with one sound; each city/town produces something particular- fair fewer homogenised acts roam here. In tandem, there is greater ease and purposes: there are not the stresses and dramas (some of Britain’s elite suffer). With all that considered, it is no surprise (Crooked House Road) sound like they are here for the long-stay: that is exactly what is going to happen. La Muse malade are on their deathbed; their like-minded artists showing the strains: eyes and ears are looking elsewhere- to acts that can focus and surprise; have stronger thoughts and ideas for sure. If you like Bluegrass music, then check out Crooked House Road: for those not initiated, then do not be afraid- there is so much more at work here. From African sounds- through to swelling harmonies- the boys (and girls) cast their new wide- take everyone along with them. I renew my plea to them: come over to London; play some of our best venues- take their music to the British public. Canada has a great music scene, yet bigger opportunities lie further afield: the likes of the U.K. and U.S. house vast markets; new fan-bases- a whole world of potential. With the music scene (over here at least) in need of a shake-up, the scene is set: the likes of Crooked House Road are much-needed. Seek out their album; fall in love with Mountain- see (what all the hype) is really about. With other acts/’real life’ occupying my time- for the next couple of months- I am departing Canada (putting their music at the back of my thoughts) but what a way to do it. If new music displays this kind of adventure and difference, then one thing is for sure…
MANY upcoming acts will feel a lot less anxious; free to create something quite sensational.
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