Review : Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back
PopmattersI imagine there are a lot of folks these days who claim to have witnessed the boys of Old Crow Medicine Show busking on the picturesque sidewalks of Boone, North Carolina, a little over a decade ago. Their ferocious bluegrass pickings and high-lonesome, and praising harmonies undoubtedly turned many heads and ears in the college town, but honestly, in a region so steeped in the rustic bluegrass traditions, there were surely just as many people who paid little mind to the sounds serenading their leisurely strolls down King Street.
They say it just takes one to notice though, and one person who did fortuitously notice, was the recently departed Doc Watson, who happened upon Old Crow Medicine’s street performance one day and was so impressed that he signed them up to participate in his annual Merlefest shindig, held in nearby Wilkesboro. From there, the band’s profile soared, leading the six unassuming band members down the road to stardom, as they moved from the smoky bar and alley-way scene to headlining gigs at some of the biggest stages in the business. The band has been able to straddle the two-pronged approach of success, as they’ve sold a lot of records while maintaining a strong critical standing. Furthermore, pushed by the ubiquity of their 2004 single, “Wagon Wheel”, Old Crow Medicine Show even have an identifiable hit song that has been versatile enough to gain airplay at events ranging from weddings and family picnics to dive bars and frat parties alike.
Here in 2012, Old Crow Medicine Show’s success has afforded them to opportunity to stretch out and explore some slight variations of their trademark style and musical presentation. Further solidifying their bona-fide standing is their addition to the ATO Records fold, Dave Matthews’ record label and safe haven to artists with Southern-leaning muscular chops, like Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, and critics’ darlings Alabama Shakes. Judging from their past efforts of instrumental power and their Appalachian heritage, it’s safe to say that Old Crow truly belongs on this label. However, what makes their latest album, Carry Me Back, a slight step forward is the focus on songwriting. In advance press for the album, band member Ketch Secor admits to a newfound concentration on songcraft, calling attention to how the songs “line up, intertwine, switch partners, and promenade home”. Working with a more rock-leaning producer in Ted Hutt also seems to have etched a spark in the band’s collective conscience as Old Crow seems to take a bit of a rock and roll ethos to the proceedings....full text
ConsequenceofsoundListening to Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) is a time-traveling experience. Unlike similar modern day (pseudo) bluegrass bands, like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers, OCMS has an old-time quality in their songs and delivery that easily fools the listener into thinking they’re spinning a group from the ’40s or ’50s. If it weren’t for the production quality of their albums, you could go on believing it. This group, from Nashville via Virginia and upstate New York, has been burning down the barn for nearly 15 years, and their newest album, Carry Me Back, continues their tradition of solid bluegrass/country songs and musicianship, with only a few missteps along the way.
The album stampedes through the gate in typical speedy bluegrass fashion with “Carry Me Back to Virginia” and “We Don’t Grow Tobacco”. Both songs were written by lead singer/fiddler/harmonica-ist Ketch Secor about his childhood home of Virginia and spotlight OCMS at its best: in the comfort zone of traditional bluegrass. The guitars and bass lines are fast and complicated, the banjo rolls like thunder at midnight, and Secor’s voice and fiddle rage with fiery passion. There are whoops and hollers in the background, and you know that they’d produce a hefty round of foot stomps live. These tracks, coupled with the impossibly fast and steel-tight harmony of “Mississippi Saturday Night”, are some of the best songs OCMS have ever written.
With beautiful ease, the boys slow it down on tracks like the heartbreaking “Levi” and the honey-sweet harmony of “Ain’t it Enough”; the former is a story of a Virginia soldier dying in Iraq, one of the moments you remember that OCMS is, in fact, a modern day band.
The few missteps come through in tracks like “Genevieve” and “Ways of Man”. These tracks don a cheesy, ’70s country sound that doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the tracks. It’s not enough to ruin the album, however, and Carry Me Back stands as one of the group’s strongest efforts to date. It shows that OCMS can still stand right in line with the other (often more popular) bands that followed their lead....full text
SlantmagazineOn Carry Me Back, Old Crow Medicine Show rediscovers the mojo they lost on 2008's dour, self-serious Tennessee Pusher. It's not that OCMS can't pull off something weighty (the deeply humanist "I Hear Them All" from 2006's Big Iron World remains one of their very best singles), but they're at their best when they chase their bigger ideas with a shot of piss and vinegar. That Carry Me Back includes some of the band's most riotous performances and their most fully developed, empathetic narratives makes the album both a substantial rebound for the band and an obvious standout in what has been a dire stretch for Americana music.
What's most impressive about the songs on Carry Me Back is that, in composing their original material, OCMS manages to apply their old-timey frame of reference to contemporary issues with subtlety and control. Frontman Ketch Secor may sing, "I'm a rebel boy/Born on the banks of the Shenandoah/In '61 went to the war," on the opening lines of "Carry Me Back to Virginia," but the song's overall message is one about the physical and psychological toils of any war on a soldier. It's an idea the band revisits on the standout "Levi," while matters of economic hardship inform "We Don't Grow Tobacco," "Mississippi Saturday Night," and "Half Mile Down." The images the band chooses of sharecroppers, bootleggers, and families displaced by the damming of the Watauga River is often decades or even centuries old, but their point of view is distinctly modern.
Though there's certainly an element of shtick to what OCMS does, there's also a palpable sense of empathy that runs through Carry Me Back, making the album more than an exercise in empty posturing. That the band develops their songs of real duress so fully also makes the escapism of their more ribald cuts like "Steppin' Out" and "Country Gal" seem all the more significant. The band's spirited, breakneck-paced performances certainly enliven even the bleak tales of "Carry Me Back to Virginia" and "Bootlegger's Boy," but "Country Gal" and "Sewanee Mountain Catfight" find OCMS at their most tawdry and rambunctious. The narrators of the songs on the album may be socially and politically disenfranchised, but that doesn't stop them from having a good time....full text
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