Even before Stark Raven appeared onstage at the Birchmere Friday night, it was obvious the audience was in for something different. It's not every day, after all, that you encounter a band fond of the electric dulcimer, cello and violin.
All of the electronics, however, didn't overwhelm the music. When the sextet, best known as the house band on the popular radio show "Mountain Stage," really cranked up the sound, Deni Bonet's plugged-in fiddle evoked memories of Papa John Creach's blues-rock fusion and gave "Whiter Shade of Pale" a bite sharp enough to make the '60s hit seem a lot less dated than it is. At other times, though, the sound was more akin to chamber music, a calming mix of violin and cello, or geared to leaner and more contemporary country rock. If none of it was particularly memorable, at least it was imaginatively arranged and often vibrantly sung.
Opening the show and occasionally collaborating with Stark Raven's Twister Sisters (Bonet and singer Julie Adams) were the Smith Sisters. Except for a lovely, poignant version of Pete Kennedy's "Distant Thunder," the duo's repertoire hasn't changed much recently. It's still an appealing blend of folk and country songs set to beautifully tailored and pristine harmonies.