The Crooked Brothers are superb instrumentalists and great songwriters, prodigiously talented with the authenticity that comes out forty below winters.
Winnipeg has been responsible for the coming out of some of the finest pop/rock/folk music ever devised: from Neil Young to The Guess Who and countless others such as Bif Naked, Ron Paley, Chantal Kreviazuk, Graham Shaw, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Wailin’ Jennys, and now – one more soon to be illustrious name we need to add to that worthy collection of talent: the Crooked Brothers. Somewhat country, somewhat folk/rock, lately supercharged by the addition of drums and standup bass (at least in concert) these guys claim never to write the same song twice. They have three full-length albums to their name, the most recent being distinguished by a title that could only have emanated north of the 49th parallel: Thank You I’m Sorry.
The powerful rockabilly number “Pass You By” is the obvious single on the record, being as radio friendly and and catchy a tune as they come. Strongly reminiscent of the legendary Canadian country rocker from Toronto called Handsome Ned who revived Canuck rockabilly, “Pass You By” manages to sound both fresh and familiar. It shouldn’t be taken as any indication of what the Crooked Brothers do, though, other than demonstrating that they can take on just about any genre they care to. The album in parts and in whole is a distinctive and brilliant collage of styles. The opener “Dear Antonia” is a subtle and endearing track about a prairie boy visiting Vancouver, an oceanfront woman who intrigues him, and an unspoken tragedy on the Downtown East Side. “Blackbird in the Snow”, with its thrumming backbeat and confessional, understated vocal is as finely written and as superbly performed as any song released this year. It’s a work of beauty, almost too lovely for words, and one that deserves a wide hearing.
The balance of the album holds countless sonic pleasures: a hypnotic blues harmonica complements a daring spoken track in “Organs on Demand”; the evocative steel guitar and the personal lyrics of living in downtown Winnipeg on Kennedy Street in “Kennedy”.
Got a new home and it’s nothing but good for me/ I hang out the window like the whole city’s mine, seven stories up on Kennedy.
Loved the uptempo blues of “Mean Mean Baby” (a solo performance). “Lightness in My Chest” sounds like Tom Waits on acid, revealing a propensity of the Crooked Brothers to upsetting the musical apple-cart at every opportunity. This track might prove the keeper of the album.
The Crooked Brothers excel at creating atmosphere: whether they’re writing about new beginnings, the specifics of moving up from Minnesota to avoid the draft, moving to Toronto and ending up on Simcoe Street in Winnipeg’s North End, or the feeling of winter on the prairies, they create a sense of reality in their songwriting imbued with a gritty, landscape-driven poetry. It’s a quality that is too often missing in today’s music. They’re also superb instrumentalists. In short, once heard, you won’t soon forget the Crooked Brothers.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high-end audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: email@example.com