Release Date: Jul 1, 2014
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Folk, Neo-Traditional Folk, String Bands, Contemporary Country, Neo-Traditionalist Country, Old-Timey, Jug Band
I'll admit to having had a hard time getting excited about Remedy, Old Crow Medicine Show's ninth record. I saw that it was coming in, thought to myself "Oh, that'll probably be good," and then moved on to being jazzed about other, less predictable stuff. This is a backhanded compliment, I know. But Old Crow Medicine Show is so consistent, so unfailingly and solidly good at what they do, it's tough to get exercised about a new record.
With “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” Remedy’s dobro-dripping opener, Old Crow Medicine Show offers a salty, bawdy bit of old-time music basted with tangy strummin’ and blowing. The detail-driven carnality-before-execution tale—with its twist of the hangman offering to trade the prisoner liberty for a night with his howling lady inside—is a brazen savor of the flesh and its respite that swings. But as lusty as “Conjugal” is, Remedy consorts with far higher content over its 13 tracks.
It's a rare band that can appeal to both old-school country music fans and rock audiences, but the seven-piece Old Crow Medicine Show from North Carolina have achieved just that with their raw energy, classy musicianship and new songs that sound like updated versions of old classics. Most of the band are multi-instrumentalists, and the lineup includes four banjo players, two fiddlers, two slide guitarists and six singers, along with harmonica, mandolin, percussion and upright bass, and they cover the full Americana range. They start with a stomping, exuberant harmonica blues, the raunchy Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer, and end with a very different prison song, the thoughtful harmony lament, The Warden.
Old Crow Medicine Show, Virginia's modern string band, has come a long way since 2006's self-titled debut album and breakout track "Wagon Wheel." Originally an unfinished Bob Dylan demo from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid sessions, it was completed by Ketcham Secor and has become a 21st century Americana standard. Produced by Ted Hutt, Remedy is the band's fifth album and most polished recording -- but that doesn't mean slick. The organic instrumentation that felt lacking on 2012's Carry Me Back returns here, with tighter arrangements, closer harmonies, and better dynamics.
Having bottled lightning on their self-titled 2004 debut, the ragamuffin bunch of buskers known as Old Crow Medicine Show rose to attention with their updated sketch of Bob Dylan’s unfinished “Momma, Rock Me”, now known as the ubiquitous “Wagon Wheel”. Following Darius Rucker’s cover of the song reaching No. 1 on the country charts and garnering the band its first million-selling single in 2013, the group was recently inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
On their eighth album, this roots-music party band still acts as if electricity was never invented: In "Doc's Day," street musicians toss their amps and drums after being scolded by an old hillbilly. But every time the group appears to be degenerating into cliché, singer-songwriter Ketch Secor throws a curveball – about the sad state of modern political discourse or the funeral of a soldier friend – and drags Appalachia into the present. And as they did with "Wagon Wheel," Old Crow dip back into Dylan's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid outtakes, concocting a fully realized version of the waltz "Sweet Amarillo" that plays it beautifully straight.
For the past 16 years, Old Crow Medicine Show have been channeling traditional folk music, be it through Depression-era string music, Appalachian bluegrass, or old-timey Americana. They modernize these genres for a rapt 21st century audience. They play fast, with punk energy and a whole lot of earnestness. They’re responsible for the most ubiquitous folk song of the past decade, “Wagon Wheel”, a platinum-certified song famously co-written by Bob Dylan and made into a Top 40 hit in 2013 by Hootie from Hootie and the Blowfish.
The members of Old Crow Medicine Show didn’t grow up playing old-timey music. Frontman Ketch Secor wasn’t born with a fiddle in his fat baby hands; guitar and banjo player Critter Fuqua (whose given name probably isn’t Critter) didn’t entertain his kindergarten classmates by plucking out some Carter Family jams. Rather, Secor, Fuqua, and all the rest of OCMS were born, raised, and weaned on alt-rock and punk.
Trailblazers whose record sales don’t always reflect that distinction, the men of Old Crow Medicine Show are so consistently good that it’s easy to take them for granted. Kicking around since the late 1990s, they were the antecedent to bands like the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. And their catalog is crammed with albums that replicate the unbridled joy and communion of their live shows.