The Crooked Brothers hail from Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba, Canada. “The Gateway To The West” according to Wiki and the home to numerous music festivals at which I’m sure The Crooked Brothers are always welcome with their impressive range of musical influences that resulted in one hell of a live show at Green Note London.
The Crooked Brothers namely Darwin, Matt and Jesse had only made it into the UK the previous day but showed no signs of fatigue as they opened gently with the quite beautiful ‘Kennedy’ the three part harmonies for which the band are known washed over those in attendance and it was immediately apparent we were in for a great night. The guys were obviously pleased to be in town and shared that this wasn’t the smallest stage they’d played on and it was a step up from their last London show when they played, with only the other bands on the bill watching, at The Dublin Castle just along the road.
This gentle opening only told a very small part of the story as the band defied genre classification during their two sets touching on folk, blues, country and anything else they could think of and laying all of these down with massive amounts of groove. The sound is bolstered by the addition of a rhythm section comprising upright bass and drums for this European trek. You really do get the feeling that the requirements of the song are king to the guys as all three switched between banjo, dobro, mandolin, electric, acoustic and slide guitars. The vocals are handled in the same way with Darwin, Matt and Jesse all taking a lead vocal and pitching in with harmonies when required and it works beautifully.
The vocal dexterity of the trio is an essential part of the sound with Matt able to switch easily from a gentle harmony to a deep guttural howl that would make Tom Waits proud if required. When the guys get a deep groove going and that voice kicks in it’s more than a little special with the likes of ‘Another Sun’, ’17 Horses’ and a rollicking 'Windsor Beer' stand outs. Darwin adds some terrific harmonica to the mix and I’ve not seen a player juggle three different tunings at one time which was cool. Jesse adds sweet harmonies and takes the lead on the folky ‘North Of The Border’ and the spoken word ‘Organs On Demand’ about the illegal Chinese trade in organ transplants (yes really) which adds a little Leonard Cohen to the musical stew.
Highlights were scattered throughout the evening with a darkly gothic ‘Your Love is a Ghost Town’ benefiting from Darwin adding some eerily appropriate Dobro slide effects that seemed to resemble creaking doors and the like. Halloween had come just a little late to Green Note, London. While ‘Blackbird In The Snow’ was easily as impressive as the tour poster promised with the lead and slide guitar parts complimenting each other to perfection.
As the band noted the first night of the tour always results in the odd equipment malfunction so the aforementioned ’17 Horses’ was announced but initially thwarted by a banjo / pre amp snafu which would have been a huge loss to the set but Darwin stepped up for a solo harmonica driven ‘Mean, Mean Baby’ and normal service was resumed (Jesse did recommend that Matt transcribe all his banjo parts to guitar at one point but this didn’t come to pass). ’17 Horses’ captures the band at their most rockin’ and Matt added a stunning vocal so it was well worth the wait and a set highlight. Jesse joked that he’d play the next song and then introduce it a few songs later….Things could have been much worse as they were also using a £90 electric guitar bought that day from a second-hand store (the price tag was still attached to the headstock) which actually sounded great (the rental price was much higher) and looks like the guys can spot a bargain.
With their varied musical influences you’ll never be entirely sure what The Crooked Brothers will serve up but I can safely say you won’t want to miss the chance to find out.