The Crooked Jades are new to me despite their 24 years and 9 albums. Listening to this offering I am reminded that somebody once said to me, of a student placement, that over and above all the evidence and reasoning you might produce that the only real question is – have they passed or have they failed? Let me tell you straight away that I think you will find that with this release they have passed with distinction.
There will be many bands or their supporters that claim rightly or wrongly to have transposed the spirit of another era’s music into the present day. The Band would be the obvious example but there are others and I think this album rests firmly in that category.
It might not seem that important, but firstly it is a beautifully and informatively packaged offering with readable and useful information. How many times have you struggled with unreadable notes and lyrics? You might be struck by the wide range of instrumentation and like me be searching the internet to find out what a Weissenborn guitar is. I’ll leave that one, if necessary, to you.
Secondly the sleeve notes let you know how many traditional songs there are that have had new arrangements indicative of the cross-pollination of ideas both old and new. Thirdly you can check out the variety of voices individually and collectively. Lisa Berman on ‘Down to the River’ might be a standout or, check out the brief a capella delights of ‘Long Time Travelling’.
This could of course be just an exercise in flashy showmanship and ‘how many instruments can we play’ – but it isn’t – it all comes together beautifully in an understated way and it’s no surprise to realise just how long some of these musicians have been playing together. The dedication on the sleeve perhaps gives a clue to the collective spirit of those involved;
‘This Album is dedicated to my parents. Walter and Daphne Elaine Kazor, who passed away in the fall of 2014, were tireless supporters of the Crooked Jades with all the many sleepovers, cooking, cleaning, instrument repairs, rehearsals in their living room, and their enthusiastic presence at our shows, cheering us on for the past 20 years’.
Leading light Jeff Kazor and his many friends are San Francisco based but Appalachia might well be their second home. There are arrangements of traditional songs such as ‘Wade in the Water’, ‘Long Time Travelling’ and ‘Pretty Little Shoes’. ‘Empathy Moves the Water’ is a self-penned paean to the need for that very quality, ruminating on the nature of mankind, the need for love and what we might see in each other’s eyes, ”We are?...” Who knows?
‘Yellow Mercury 3’ (and 4) exhibit an interest that appears in other work by this group; Yellow Mercury being a poisonous antiseptic or pigment and the lyrics a tale of longing and return. If anyone knows I would be grateful – what is it about Yellow Mercury?
It’s helpful to offer some suggestions as to who this music might remind you of. My first thought was that some of the guitar playing recalled Ry Cooder. ‘Long Time Travelling’ put me in mind of Alison Krause performing ‘Down to the River to Pray’ – but then there are resonances aplenty within and they are a delight to discover.