Listening 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.
Essential Tracks: “Carry Me Back to Virginia”, “Mississippi Saturday Night”