Old Crow Medicine Show (from the album Carry Me Back) - Cornering Old Crow Medicine Show in to a bluegrass category is like saying the family automobile could race at NASCAR. Sure, OCMS fits into the traditions of bluegrass with their instrumentation and basic structure of upright bass, banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle. They can play an arena or busk and the only difference felt with the audience would be the amount of available partners to swing around the floor.
Fact is that comparing them directly to the souped-up race cars that go for the trophies may be easier. Old Crow Medicine Show play fast, lightning fast. Carry Me Back hits the ground running with a period song from the perspective of a rebel soldier heading off to war in 1864. The opening track, Carry Me Back to Virginia, nods to the album title and uses Virginia as a goal throughout the tune. The passion of a solider with a cause flies off the song thanks to the rapid fire riffs that is common ground for Old Crow Medicine Show. The speed of playing is default, the band manages toe tapping mid-tempo and heart tugging ballads on Carry Me Back, though even when the sway is barely noticeable, OCMS packs a punch. When the band started out they needed to get, and keep, the attention of anyone stopping long enough to listen.
The band started life busking through upper New York State and up through Canada. It was playing on a street corner that gave the band a big break, the bluegrass version of Hollywood tale of Lana Turner being discovered at Schwab’s Pharmacy by director Mervyn LeRoy. It was Old Crow Medicine Show was busking outside of a pharmacy while passing through Boone, North Carolina by folk icon Doc Watson. Doc got them on stage for MerleFest and a short while later, after relocating to Nashville, OCMS had a residency at the Grand Ole Opry entertaining the crowd between shows. Their career track for Old Crow Medicine Show is as fast as some of their songs. They have sold over 800,000 albums worldwide and have been frequent guests on A Prairie Home Companion. The have been on stage at Bonnarroo, the Hollywood Bowl, Coachella, New Orleans Jazz Fest and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Carry Me Back is album number four from Old Crow Medicine Show. The is tenderness amid the chaos of string band playing with “Genevieve”, where the three part harmony shines, and “Ain’t It Enough”, where the pace slows to let power of love take the wheel. “Ways of Man” closes Carry Me Back with a look at life in our times told over the gentleness of mountain music to balance the tough love of the lyrics. “We Don’t Grow Tobacco” and “Half Mile Down” looks closer at today with tales off what is going on with our American environment, the parts that do not make the news. The stories of life changes being forced on farmers and small town citizens in our country that never share the limelight on prime time television.
Old Crow Medicine Show weave belief and honesty into their songs. That mood is translated best into the songs that travel so fast that you are sure they will not make the next curve. “Bootleggers Son” pushes the needle and “Sewanee Mountain Catfight” raises the speed bar. “Mississippi Saturday Night” needs a warning label for the faint of heart. The playing will pass a freight train without breaking a sweat with the vocals keeping up without missing a note or nuance. The passion behind the words and playing is never lost within an Old Crow Medicine Show performance, whether at a live show or on a recording. There is an excitement that digs its way in, a joy that leaps of the mix of notes and voices. Carry Me Back is a great introduction to a band that uses Indie as a banner in its sound, its attitude and its causes. Danny McCloskey/RA