BRAND NEW RELEASE!
THE CROOKED JADES
WORLD'S ON FIRE
Across the wide seas, distant mountains, and the vast complexity of the soul, this new release by The Crooked Jades emphasizes the lonesome in "High Lonesome" music. Their old-time roots reflect the cultural melange and longing implicit in the shadows of America, wedding hypnotic fiddle tunes to the haunting ballads of one man lost in a changing land.
Reaffirming their reputation as an innovative old-time string band closer in spirit to Tom Waits and Nick Cave, The Crooked Jades create a unique and soulful modern sound by exploring the roots of Americana and interweaving the diverse musical influences of Europe and Africa.
With a new look and new lineup but the same bold vision and drive to innovate and inspire, the Crooked Jades release their brand new album "World1s on Fire" on their own label, Jade Note Music. Largely recorded at Berkeley1s famous Fantasy Studios, this new CD is produced by band founder and leader Jeff Kazor and once again features their signature mix of inspired re-arrangements of rare and obscure old-time gems and beautiful original compositions, all played on vintage and eclectic instruments instrumentation (including Hawaiian slide, Vietnamese jaw harp, harmonium, ukulele, banjo ukulele, arco bass and minstrel banjo).
The album is the first full-length CD featuring the new lineup of The Crooked Jades (reconfigured in 2004): Jeff Kazor (guitar/ukulele/Vietnamese jawharp/harmonium/vocals), Jennie Benford (also of Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops, mandolin/guitar/Vietnamese jawharp /vocals), Adam Tanner (fiddle/mandolin/ vocals), Erik Pearson (banjos/slide guitar/vocals) and Megan Adie (bass/vocals).
Release date February 2006
Jade Note Music
687 Chenery St. San Francisco CA 94131
21 June 2006
by Mark W. Adams
It’s quite easy to imagine curmudgeonly beard-strokers with names like Gaither and Ellerby on their mountainside front porch grumbling that the only real music is old-time music, and the only old-time music worth listening to are tunes recorded onto 78s. It’s not so easy to imagine young hipsters sipping Red Bull and bobbing their heads to the beat of old-time music piped through the iPod buds in their ears. But, I have a surprise for Gaither and Ellerby—and one for Mr. Joe Bussard—a surprise that will rearrange their tobacco-stained dentures. And I also have a surprise for you, too, Indie-rock Isolde, Jazzhead Joseph, Country Cathy, Soul Bettye, Gospel Gary, and Blues Bartholomew: The Crooked Jades’ World’s on Fire is an old-time album that you, yes you Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr./Fr./Amb. Music Fanatic, will love. This 2006 release has depth of quality, performance, and passion that makes this release a cross-generational, cross-genre charmer.
The title of opening song "Can’t Stare Down a Mountaineer" seems to acknowledge the staunchness of those Gaither-and-Ellerby "mountain music" diehards. But it will also please them with old-fashioned lyrical content, a frailed banjo and a fiddle bridge. Jennie Benford’s voice engages from the first note, and the song displays her vocal power even in this, a delicate setting. "Sandy Boys" follows, and introduces the soulful voice of bandleader Jeff Kazor, to which Benford pairs delightful harmony. With its plucky dual jaw harps and traditional lyrics about the "waitin’ for the booger boo", this second song embodies that "Old, Weird America" captured by Harry Smith’s anthology.
Strange? Yes, but beautiful, too. Almost any music fan will become fanatical about the traditional-sounding-but-original tune "Goodbye Trouble the Soul of Man". Slide guitar accompanies alternating vocal harmonies in a mid-tempo moan that builds to a cathartic climax in which Kazor testifies with the authority of a Pentecostal preacher. Benford’s voice plays a fragile counterpart to Kazor’s sturdy wail. This, friends, is the blues—both mournful and liberating.
The Crooked Jades draw upon the earliest forms of American music—a capella singing, gospel, country blues, folk songs in the traditional canon—but recognize that old songs needn’t remain dusty and dour. A variety of fiddles, slide guitars, ukuleles, banjos, and mandos—sans electricity, of course—are employed to help World’s on Fire achieve a rich, full sound. The album is full of engaging instrumentation that will simultaneously shock and please Mr. iPod RedBull, who may rarely jam to mp3s featuring the frailed banjo ukulele. And though Country Cathy may have purchased the O Brother soundtrack, the rest of her collection is unlikely to include any songs as old as those reincarnated here. Though The Crooked Jades employ an old-time template, they seek and reach new mountain highs.
Classical music fans, there’s even something here for you. Within the 15 tracks of World’s on Fire, there are five instrumentals, three of which display a certain classical minimalism. "Fork & File" is a banjo duet with, well, a fork and file. It’s instrumentation that is unconventional and yet perfectly sensible—just like the fretless banjo/bowed bass/soprano ukulele (you read that right) arrangement of trad tune "Girl Slipped Down". "Shirttail Boogie" foregoes the actual bowing of a fiddle. Instead, it is plucked to compliment a banjo ukulele. The remaining instrumentals ("Indian War Whooop/ Pancake Walk" and "Blackberry Blossom") are both gritty and jazzy, taking a cue from traditional music’s history and its more recent incarnations.
But ultimately, it’s the voices, remarkable leads and harmonies, that capture you from the first listen. Each of The Crooked Jades sing and sing well. You’ll want to grab your earbuds and better absorb the texture their voices create. "Old Cow Died" is a driving fiddle tune, enriched by low-end harmonies, the call and response: "ain’t that a pity!" Deceptively simple-sounding original "Heaven’s Gonna Be My Home" is a stunning handclap- and mandolin-propelled gospel number made even more heavenly by creatively-placed children’s harmonies.
Certainly, World’s on Fire is full of diverse surprises, but nothing can prepare the listener for the final track, from which the album takes its name. Goosebump-inducing, haunting, and apocalyptic, "World’s on Fire" creates an atmosphere worthy of its title. Emerging from a multi-layered recording of whispered prayers in an unknown language, a plankwalk bass gives way to marching handclaps and the incessant background bass vocal: "Judgment/ Judgment/ Judgment..." Jennie Benford takes the lead, enunciating the song’s title with increasing alacrity, then calling Gabriel whole-heartedly while a slide guitar proclaims the building apocalypse. The pounding resonance of the word "Judgment" creates a gospel atmosphere, although a distinctly ominous one. Benford’s soaring proclamations of "sinners rise!" paired with fire-and-brimstone descriptions of "stars fall/moon bleeds/elements melting" could be read with multilayered meaning, especially considered in contrast to those initial, "foreign," intonations. This interpretation therefore seems to cast a burning light on that destructive duality between what is called ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ what is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’—and just who is to make that judgment in an increasingly oppositional world. The song is also a reminder, like the album as a whole, that old songs can be born again, and that they can appeal to a broad new generation of listeners.
CD Review February 2006
The Crooked Jades
World's On Fire
Jade Note Music CJ206
5 out of 5 stars
There is a magical moment near the end of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? where David Holt leads a procession through the town as John Hartford1s Indian War Whoop sets the pace and notorious bank robber "Babyface" Nelson, defiantly struts his stuff.
It is so fleeting, it's a tease.
With this new CD, The Crooked Jades redress the balance.
If you felt cheated too, you need to get this in order to feel the true force of the piece.
The Crooked Jades always manage to stay head and shoulders above their contemporaries and are among a few purveyors of old-time who can make the hairs stand on the back of the neck.
No one ever properly explained what it is that makes that happen.
Some of the most stirring music ever recorded was produced by groups of women who sat around the same table rhythmically beating newly-woven cloth to soften it and chanting call and response verses in their Gaelic tongue.
When you hear those early field recordings of "Waulking" songs captured in the Western Isles, the hairs always stand to attention. It1s easy to imagine that native American Indians were responsible. Somehow there is a common thread primeval, elemental.
These days there are some old-time musicians who try to recreate the simple essence of the genre while others set out to put modern spin in place.
If you imagine bands like Nickel Creek or Old Crow Medicine Show are made of solid, sparkling silver with a twinkle as seductive as Tony1s Curtis1s wink, The Crooked Jades are more centuries 'old bronze with a natural air-worn patina and all the mystery of the Mona Lisa's smile.
These players have tapped into a very tasty niche of their own, drenched with the sweat of the centuries and reinvented as something strikingly unique and sophisticated.
Invariably, when people write things about this band, they end up resorting to almost different language or trying very hard to find terms which are crusty and glowing enough all at the same time to adequately do them justice.
"Otherworldly", they say, "edgy", "dark and hypnotic", "devotional", "fascinating", "pleasureSˇand some discomfort too", "wild, woolly and unpredictable".
SˇAll true, but there1s a soul to this band that digs deeper into the past.
If I knew how to speak in tongues, that would maybe be the most fitting way to describe what they do so well.
That they are innovative pickers with equal measures of attitude and respect and play their music on an array of vintage instruments, helps to add a distinctive "note"; that Jeff Kazor has a depth to his writing which is matched by few others, with the possible exception of Gillian Welch, is another factor.
That all five, Kazor, Jennie Benford, Erik Pearson, Megan Adie and Adam Tanner gel so well is the biggest gift of all.
This time around, they have surpassed previous glories with a stunning selection of material, tapping into the very heart of American folk and treating us to the kind of perfect all-round performance that saw them winning a standing ovation in the traditional tent at MerleFest 2005.
Looking for pure spirit of the southern Appalachians, with flailing gut-strung banjos, aching fiddle and vocals so authentic, they could be from the archives?
How about a real rousing spiritual shot through with enough raw energy to have a whole hall of revivalists sh-sh-shaking in their shoes?
It1s all there to keep existing fans enthralled.
But, this time around The Crooked Jades show they have other subtleties that have previously been kept under wraps.
The selection is filled with surprises, the most impressive of which is Ring The Moon with a gentle string quartet feel and roots tapping into the Elizabethan madrigal, but a contemporary Philip Glass-like finish. One Girl On The Turnpike Road is another that gets an intriguing almost old-English treatment that is stunningly effective.
Kazor1s mournful voice is put to best use on the hauntingly beautiful Shallow Brown. He1s in great form too for the hugely satisfying Heaven1s Gonna Be My Home.
The bluesy Goodbye Trouble, stomping solidly with a chain gang throb, leaves everything else in this vein that has been attempted in recent times, firmly in the shade.
One brilliant track follows another as they gather such a head of steam that by the end, the only thing to do is stick it back on and start all over again and again, and again.
The Crooked Jades have already produced four very fine albums and a recent 5-track CD that is a splendidly-paced sampler.
WORLD1S ON FIRE is their best ever. Essential listening. LT
Today's post is really courtesy of San Francisco reader Brian who saw the band Crooked Jades one night as part of SF Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival. Brian said it best in his email to me:
"Last night at one of the first shows of the SF Bluegrass and Old Time Music Fest, the Crooked Jades blew the doors off the place. Think Emmylou singing with Nick Cave. I've never seen anything like it. From straight Bluegrass to Negro Spirituals, to Sea Shanties in three moves."
Crooked Jades are within the bluegrass tradition but are more often compared to Tom Waits and Nick Cave than to Bill Monroe or Ralph Stanley. All of their influences can be heard on the song below from the intro sounds of a Vietnamese jaw harp to the deep resonant vocals of leader Jeff Kazor to the picking heard throughout the song.