The Crooked Jades are a San Francisco Bay Area-based art-twang ensemble devoted to old-timey Appalachian music with a dark, Gothic twist. Here's a quick look at their work...
The Crooked Jades "Going To The Races" (Crooked Records, 1998)
The first album by one of San Francisco's finest old-time stringbands. Here the Jades emerge as amiable acoustic twangsters, along the lines of the Dry Branch Fire Brigade -- knowledgable, enthusiastic and relatively accessible to bluegrassers and other non-old timey fans alike. The vocal chores are evenly split between the guys and gals, and when they really get going, their clattering enthusiasm is a thing to behold.
The Crooked Jades "Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait" (Crooked Records, 2000)
The soundtrack to a documentary film about several generations of an Appalachian family, this shows the band's intensified interest in the more rarified, stark and otherworldly strains of old-timey music. These city folks nail it right on the head... Sinking deeper under the tow of old-timey music's darker side, the Jades present the passionate fatalism of mountain music along with all its musical charm. Singing higher and more plaintively, playing tighter and more aggressively, this is clearly a band that has found its footing, and is setting off to make its own original mark on some old, traditional music. And when the hair starts to stand up on the back of your neck, that's how you know they've succeeded. Cool record -- check it out!
The Crooked Jades "The Unfortunate Rake, Volume 1" (Crooked Records, 2000)
(Produced by Richard Buckner)
Under the guidance of their pal and producer, Richard Buckner, the Crooked Jades go even deeper into the Gothic side of the old-timey continuum. Once again, I'm not a big fan of high-concept country, but I am intrigued by their efforts to recast these foreboding old themes into an updated sensibility. There are lots of nice touches, such as their slowing an old barndancing standard such as "Ida Red" down to a near-crawl, and allowing the antiquated, somewhat saucy, lyrics to take on new twists and secondary meanings. The picking and plunking is pretty good, too -- these city kids know how to play a breakdown right -- although at times I have to struggle the vocals, particularly those that are most openly imitative of Richard Buckner. As with many alt.country artistes, the Jades have a tendency to sound a little stilted, but they back it up with a strong command of their material, and this record is several notches above the rest of the crowd. Particularly fascinating are their variant versions of traditional songs -- in the best folkloric tradition, they travel familiar paths, but they veer off into the forest from time to time, just when you least expect it. Great record -- highly recommended!
The Crooked Jades "The Unfortunate Rake, Volume 2" (Copper Creek, 2003)
The Crooked Jades "The Crooked Jades" (EP) (Self-Released, 2005)
With a new lineup and increasing ease behind the mics, San Francisco's Crooked Jades have produced possibly their best record to date. This five-song EP features two originals and three traditional tunes, each of which are delivered with a solid, confident elegance... While their earlier old-timey albums have had a choppiness and self-conscious air at times, this is a smooth, self-assured set, with nary a forced note to be heard... Can't wait to hear the band's next full-length album!
Crooked Jades "World's On Fire" (2006)
This San Fran outfit has become notably less bluegrassy or old-timey, and now they've entered into artsy musical terrain that's truly distinctive and new. The songs are arch and intellectually dense, the music is in turns expansive and tightly cut. Now, as a rather pedestrian listener myself, I have to confess this didn't have enough of a melody-chorus orientation for me to latch onto it -- I'll be darned if I could tell you what any of these songs are about -- but for anyone looking for new, unconventional music that is pushing the boundaries of Americana and twang, I'd say this disc is a must-hear record. I don't know what the hell the Jades are doing here, but I know it's something new. You might wanna check it out.
Crooked Jades "Shining Darkness" (Jade Note, 2008)
(Produced by Bruce Kaplan & Jeff Kazor)
The Jades really hit their stride on this disc... Their old-timey roots are still intact, but their approach to the material more fluid now, absorbing more modern influences like twangadelic, avant freak-folk, as well as a softer vocal style, mainly on the numbers where singer Leah Abrahmson projects a Gillian Welch-like vibe. The band's old love of Gothic-death song material persists, but it's leavened by a wider sonic palette that allows the group to really program the album as a musical journey, with stops along the backwoods, swamps and cottonfields of America's inner psyche. Of all the Crooked Jades albums thus far, this one is my favorite. Worth checking out!
Crooked Jades "Bright Land" (Jade Note, 2012)
Hick Music Index