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Tuesday, July 31

Album Review: Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back - 2012

Old Crow Medicine Show 
ATO Records
Released: July 17, 2012

It’s possible that Old Crow Medicine Show named their newest album Carry Me Back as a purposeful nod to the fact that listening to it will transport the listener through time and space to the most knee-thumpingly fun, Appalachian backyard moonshine party the 1930’s ever saw. Most of the songs on the album scream to be pressed in wax and played with a dusty needle. As old-timey as their sound can be, though, OCMS manages to be reverent to the roots of the genres that birthed them while also edgily (and nearly imperceptibly) simultaneously breaking out of their sometimes overly narrow confines.
They charge out of the barn doors with the up-tempo title track, “Carry Me Back,” showcasing complex guitar and bass lines, fiddle that propels the sound forward and keeps the beat, and vocals that speedily and emotively tell the story of yearning to be back in (lead singer/fiddler Ketch Secor’s childhood home) Virginia.  “We Don’t Grow Tobacco” adds a bit of politics to the album tells the story of the “hardest work ever done, bending ‘neath that burnin’ sun,” with weary instrumentals and a bluesy vocal quality. The band even gives a tip-of-the-hat to Hank Williams with the innocent, light-hearted “Country Gal.”  “Mississippi Saturday Night” is a yawpy, over-caffeinated, hootnanny, with plenty of amped-up harmonica and airtight harmonies (despite the tempo) that tells stories of the south spanning from Natchez to New Orleans. “Steppin’ Out” is another fun barn-floor stopper that showcases a bit of rolling banjo and some rich harmonizing.  “Sewanee Mountain Catfight” sounds the least like a studio pre-meditation and more like a recording from a raucous Tennessee county fair (toward the end of the day when everyone is just drunk enough to be twirling feverishly, smashing beer bottles in excitement, whistling and two-stepping like their lives depend on it).   The band gracefully slows it down with songs like “Levi” and “Ain’t It Enough.” The former is a character study about a southern boy who is killed in Iraq with heartbreaking, molasses-like vocals, the latter a stunning hybrid of a honey-sung James Taylor love song and a beautifully rendered Dylan-esque ballad.  The only missteps are “Genevieve” and “Ways of Man,” both of which sit at jaunty angles to the rest of the smoothly polished album. Where “Half Mile Down” seems to successfully straddle that line that between rootsy bluegrass and banal, radio-country, these other two fall flat on the wrong side.  All in all a high-spirited, fantastically fun album, Carry Me Back proves that OCMS can win over everyone from neo-hippie/bluegrass fans to the most staunch of Americana loyalists. All the while keeping in mind that fans of the increasingly popular Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons should thank these talented musicians for blazing a trail from deep in the Appalachian woods to both coasts and everywhere in between. 
Album can be purchased online here.
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