at Coffee Gallery Backstage, January. 5, 2010

By Tom Cheyney

crowfoot2.jpgSo a Canadian, a Vermonter, and an Englishman walked into a bar.... Well not a bar in Crowfoot's case, but the performance space behind a coffee house. The trio, now based in Quebec, brought their deeply felt confluence of Irish, English, Appalachian, French Canadian, and other musics to Bob Stane's fulcrum of folk and roots in Altadena. A pretty good crowd turned out (only a handful of empty seats); you could certainly do a helluva lot worse finding a Tuesday night alternative to "NCIS," I s'pose.

The threesome split the show into two halves, and their material went back and forth between songs and "sets" of tunes drawn from their three albums. Crowfoot stands apart from some in the acoustic neotraditionalist pack, since each of the members contribute copious original material in addition to the reimagined chestnuts they also perform.

Fresh from a few contradance hoolies elsewhere in the region, Crowfoot relished the chance to tuck into more delicate and haunting tracks and to crack wise in the intimate confines of the room. When they cranked or swung the tempo and plumbed the groove, the result was foot-stompingly electric.

Their dark, almost Gothic reading of the aulde English tale of sororicide, The Bonny Bows, was unsettlingly beautiful. The crooked take (and this is a group most definitely drawn to the slightly off-kilter) on John Barleycorn reconfigured the original "anthropomorphic song about barley" and blended in The Homeward Way, a tune inspired in part by the B-flat hum of a bathroom ceiling fan in his Mum's house in Norfolk, England, recounted guitarist-singer Adam Broome.

The members garner much inspiration from the natural world, as a check of song/tune titles suggests. Fiddler-harmony singer Jaige Trudel credited the oldest hawthorn tree in East Anglia as muse for The Hethel Thorn, and the taste was sweet on her jaunty composition, The Elderberry Jig (part of their bubble-to-a-boil "big set" named "Footpath," which they opened with). Accordionist-flutist-singer Nicholas Williams and the gang took flight on his tune The Swift, while The Big Nasty Cockroach (a third of the "Mango" set, inspired by his travels to India) good-naturedly recalled one of the grosser creatures among us.

As you might expect from a talented trio that makes music full time (no day jobs for these three), their ebb-and-flow interplay got downright (and downhome) telepathic. None of Crowfoot's collective influences dominated for too long, the mountain music giving way to the Celtic stream, the English and the Acadian blurring among the fiddle and squeezebox burr. The ancient-future folkloric continuum seems to be in good hands-and good voice--with these three.