About Crooked Mowth
Crooked Mowth is an a cappella quartet from the Boston area, conceived by harmony-hungry friends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Haley Fisher, Jennie O’Brien, Jim Henderson, and James Gerke deliver a rich vocal blend and unique arrangements to songs old and new. Though the performers already have a comfortable home in the trad/folk style of singing, their goal is to make an impactful sound across genres.
When not singing or riding public transit (or sometimes both) Haley works in customer service for a travel company. Meanwhile, Jennie teaches music at the Perkins School for the Blind and at the New England Conservatory. Jim practices as a solo attorney, focusing on business and estate planning law. And James is a service manager for a digital media company and plays the chromatic button accordion.
For our second EP, we decided to focus on the existential threat of our time, the climate emergency. (It’s unfortunate that there are several to choose from, though.) But at the same time, we wanted our music once again to reflect a variety of styles. This time around, our “old” piece is written in the shape-note style, and our new song, extolling both the seriousness of the climate emergency and the need for real action, is all ours. We know we can’t stem the tide all by ourselves, but hopefully we can help inspire ourselves, our friends, and the people around us all to ‘acknowledge reality’ and do something … anything.
As a side note, we started our work on this EP in earnest in February 2022. Gee, what happened then? We wanted to sing in support of the people of Ukraine, so in addition to our Earth-y songs, we found two opportunities to do that. Like with all of our arrangements, we put our own twist on these pieces, but very much maintain their spirit.
We hope you enjoy, and might even be inspired by, our music. Perhaps you will see us as we venture out in our new kicks.
A love for traditional music runs deep in the Crooked Mowth quartet. When Emerald Stream found us — by way of a song-swapping circle (and one of may have sung it in a Revels production) — we noticed how the song pairs the theme of the climate emergency with a deliciously ‘folky’ flavor. Current subject matter, old genre! Emerald Stream was composed in the style of a shape-note piece, a centuries-old form of music notation used to aid singers in churches and schools, by Seth Houston. It is a raw and powerful song.
In addition to being a “total bop” (Haley’s words) musically, Earth paints a sharply honest picture of a fed-up Mother “Mom” Earth. Put simply, she’s pretty pissed at us, and we’ve got some work to do to make it up to her.
The climate crisis is real. We cannot wait for someone else to fix it for us. More importantly, we must either take responsibility, in order to leave a liveable world for our children and grandchildren, or suffer significant consequences, ever sooner than we thought possible. So, in the spirit of recognizing both the danger we face and the opportunity to address it head on, we wrote 2C. We are ever grateful to our friend and very talented Boston-area composer, Andrés Ballesteros, who wrote this intricate piece of vocal music, and for managing to work with such mellifluous words as magnates, temperature and thermometer.
And thank you Al and Greta for all you are doing.
First heard as the end credits of the film Wall-E rolled along on the big screen, Peter Gabriel’s Down to Earth is an upbeat reminder of the home we all share and why we should stand strong against the forces, and the ignorance, that would destroy it. We can be willing participants in keeping our jewel of a planet, with its blues and greens, its golds and reds, its browns and purples, alive and in good health. Isn’t this beautiful planet in the Milky Way worth keeping? Come on down and help make it be our home for the future.
Yes, another Chumbawamba cover, but we were introduced to this by another acappella-singing friend. Jennie and Jim did a version of this song in June 2020 (pre-Crooked Mowth), partially rewritten to recognize the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Well, the world faced a new crisis in February 2022, and with four voices available, we thought we would record this for real. So long as we all keep singing for what’s important, to make the world a better, just place for everyone, perhaps we can then all come together and sing about, well, you know.
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began, an inspiring video circulated of a young woman singing a patriotic Ukrainian folksong, joined subsequently by a larger group of singers. We challenged ourselves to learn the words, and the pronunciation (thank you to David Rukhelman for the help), and put our own spin (or round, as the case may be) on the song.
Have You Been Listening?
Our first EP was born from the idea that living through ‘unprecedented times’ is worth singing about. We are proud to deliver a sample of social justice-oriented songs spanning multiple centuries. Music has always inspired action, and the folk tradition in particular lends itself to themes of rebellion, speaking truth to power, yearning for an equitable future – we hope the same themes resonate with you as you make your way through the collection.
One of the musical approaches we want to take is to find songs from different eras and different cultures that fit a roughly common theme. So we begin with a song written nearly 400 years ago as a protest against intrusions by the landed gentry and others ‘in power’ upon the Diggers’ use of the land. The original poem has 12 verses, which are more than have usually been sung. Because some of the complaints raised in the poem are timely in the 21st century, we brought the message up to date by writing some verses of our own.
Jim insisted we leave in the verse about the lawyers though.
Introduced to us by our friend Sam Colton, Hegoak is a poem in the Basque language, reportedly written in opposition to the Franco regime and its efforts to outlaw the language. A rough English translation of the lyrics goes:
If I had cut off its wings,
He would’ve been mine; he wouldn’t have left.
Yes, but then,
He would’ve no longer been a bird!
And for me,
It was the bird that I loved.
This non-English song gave us a welcome chance to play with the musicality and color of the piece. Even before we learned the translation, we found that the song conveyed powerful feelings in its ‘vibes’ alone!
The story of Wenceslao Moguel is unique. Having been captured fighting on behalf of Pancho Villa, he was executed by firing squad … except that he survived and, as it turns out, lived until he was 85 years old. But his story sung as a ‘bop’, as Haley would call it, well for that we thank Chumbawamba (yes, them). Once we listened to the song, it was hard to get out of our ears – again, just ask Haley.
We were drawn to this song, originally recorded by British trio Coope, Boyes & Simpson, because of how it evokes some of the disturbing changes we have witnessed in American society over the past five years. Even though the song was first recorded 12 or so years ago, when we sing these lyrics we can’t help seeing certain events in Charlottesville some seven years later. We can’t begin to address the challenges we face if we don’t see them plainly. Have you been listening, indeed!
Our community theater group, In Good Company, had intended to include this song in a new musical play, but we thought we would give it a go first. With that in mind, we want to thank IGC’s former music director, Steven Lipsitt, for helping to put this arrangement together.
Our second video, from the EP “Have You Been Listening?”
Listen to the full EP here
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The Halsway Carol
Crooked Mowth came together in 2021, as we spent the year putting our first video together in celebration of the winter solstice.