Reviews for the Soundtrack

"On the Edge" by Les McIntyre
June 2000 issue

"Seven Sisters" is a invigorating collection of Appalachian Mountain music that doubles as the soundtrack for a documentary film tracing the lives of seven sisters from their Kentucky farm, through the Great Depression, World War II and eventual relocation into an urban setting. This incredible variety of traditional melodies traverses the musical spectrum from old-time mountain ballads to the early roots of rock-and-roll. A few of the more discernible highlights are Jeff Kazor's poignant interpretations of "Miner's Child," and "Cumberland Gap" followed by Martha Hawthorne's lead vocal on "Little Bessie" and Lisa Berman's treatment of "Moonshiner." Also included are several obscure instrumentals such as "Jenny Get Around" and "Young Edward." There is even a bluegrass flavored treatment of the early rockabilly classic, "Mystery Train." Throughout the 20 performances, "Seven Sisters" reverberates with an incredible level of intensity setting it apart as a superlative example of American folk art.

by Larry Carlin

Songs: Put My Little Shoes Away, Miner's Child, I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again, Pearl Bryan/Intro, Cumberland Gap, Letter Edged In Black (Intsr.), Little Bessie, Miner's Child (Instr.), Hard For To Love, She Lied To Me, Young Edward, Letter Edged In Black, Put My Little Shoes Away (Instr.), Moonshiner, Wayfaring Stranger (Instr.), Jenny Get Around, Wayfaring Stranger, Mystery Train, Pretty Polly (Instr.), Pearl Bryan/Outro

Personnel: The Crooked Jades are: Jeff Kazor - vocals and guitars; Lisa Berman - vocals, dobro, and slide guitars; Tom Lucas - vocals, banjos, organ, guitar, and bass; Dan Lynn - vocals and bass. Special guests: Bill Foss - fiddle, mandolin, banjo, banjo-ukulele, and bass; Martha Hawthorne - vocals, guitar, and bass; Eric Pearson - banjo and guitar; Chris Kee - Arco bass

If you were going to make a documentary film about a family of sisters from Kentucky in the 30s and 40s and you wanted to use some old-time music for your soundtrack your first inclination would be to go down south to search out some band from that area. But if you were based in San Francisco there would be no need to travel afar to find some great old-time/bluegrass music since there are quite a few young bands playing mountain music in the hills of The City. And filmmaker Patrick Donahew could not have chosen a better band when he asked The Crooked Jades to record the soundtrack for his new documentary called Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait, a film that will be coming to a PBS station near you sometime this summer.

The film follows the journeys of seven sisters who loved to sing. They span a generation, growing up during the Depression in Kentucky, and their inspiring story proves that you don't need Hollywood movie stars in a movie or presidential candidates to tell a story about real family values. One of the sisters is the mother of director Donahew, so he knows his subject matter better than most documentary filmmakers do. The Crooked Jades debuted two years ago with their impressive Going To The Races CD, and on this new recording they gathered a few friends to help recreate the music that predates bluegrass. And they used mostly instruments that were used way back then, from parlor guitars and Weissenborns to banjo-ukuleles and minstrel banjos. The band got inspiration for many of the songs from a little-known singer and banjo player from Eastern Kentucky by the name of Roscoe Holcomb.

The director provided a list of eight songs that he wanted the band to record, and Jades founder Jeff Kazor found the rest of the material. All of the songs except for one are 70-125 years old, and the sound the Jades produced on this CD is about as authentic as you will find these days. There are 20 songs and almost an hour's worth of music on Seven Sisters, as well as a wonderful mix of story songs and instrumentals. While all of the songs are well done, highlights include Put My Little Shoes Away (which is also the first song), Cumberland Gap, Hard For To Love, and I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again. Five of the songs that are sung also have instrumental versions played elsewhere on the CD, and this makes for a nice contrast. Special guests Martha Hawthorne's haunting vocals and Bill Foss's fiddle/banjo/mandolin provide a nice addition to the old-time sound those fans of the Jades have become so familiar with. How many times have you bought a soundtrack because of one song you heard in a film, and then found out the rest of the recording was terrible? A lot of work and thoughtful planning went into the making of Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait by The Crooked Jades, and it is one of the best soundtracks to come along in a long time. Who'd have thought that the songs of 100 years ago could still sound this good in the year 2000? Every song on Seven Sisters tells a story, one that you will want to listen to time and again.

April 21, 2000
review by Larry Kelp

THE CROOKED JADES. They don't play fast or fancy, but this fairly recent addition to the Bay Area folk-country-bluegrass scene playes with a passion and depth that has even jaded bluegrass fans (who haven't been excited by anything in years) standing up an saluting. Not to compare the two, but the Jades' music is a bit like that Band's, in that their new tunes sound as if they'd always been sung in the hills of hollows of old America. The group--Dobro and slide player Lisa Berman, bassist Dan Lynn, banjo player and fiddler Tom Lucas, and guitarist Jeff Kazor--celebrates the release of its new CD, the soundtrack to the upcoming "Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait" PBS-TV special. Joining in are fiddler, mandolinist, and uke player Bill Foss, and singer, guitarist, and clogger Martha Hawthorne. (L.K.) FREIGHT & SALVAGE, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley 548-1761

review by Kay Clements

This mountain music reaches right into my bloodstream and chills my soul. From the first track on this documentary soundtrack, I knew this was a keeper. I think the Crooked Jades are better known as a bluegrass band but they kick some old-time Appalachian butt here on Seven Sisters, capturing the spare but intense life of rural Kentucky. Equal parts instrumentals and vocals, the record is nicely paced, well-produced and self-released. It's a nice tribute to the record when I'm inspired to see the film because of it.

"Some of the San Francisco Bay Area's best country & twangcore (and oddball roots and acoustic) bands"
Joe Sixpack's Bay Area Country Faves

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 upon the back of your neck, that's how you know they've succeeeded. Cool record—check it out!

May 2001
by Hillary West

PBS commissioned The Crooked Jades to find and record the music of Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait for a documentary by the same name. The result is an evocative collection of old-time ballads, tunes and spirituals. The Crooked Jades have been faithful to their charge and have recreated the feel of the music the seven sisters might have sung in the 1930s and '40s. It is spare, unflamboyant and of the earth. The solitary departure from an otherwise vintage set list is "Mystery Train"—yes indeedy, of Elvis Presley renown.

Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait is the sort of recording which grows on a person and works its way in. Some of the renditions are surprising at first, the music stripped to the bare essentials, as in "Miner's child" and "Moonshiner."

The Crooked Jades are Jeff Kazor, vocals, guitar and parlor guitar; Lisa Berman, vocals, and guitars of Hawaiian, Weissenborn and resophonic styles. Tom Lucas, vocals, 1920 TB3 banjo, minstrel banjo, Hammond organ, guitar and bass; and Dan Lynn, vocals and bass.

Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait is an impressive and thoughtfully researched recording.

(CJ Note: We were commissioned by Patrick Donohew of Sour Mash Films, and the film has been shown on PBS.
AND, the sisters did indeed sing some of these songs. Their father also sang some of the songs to them.)

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