Tuesday, July 24, 2012

CD REVIEW - Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back

By: W.J. Hallock

Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back

Released: July, 2012

My son is an “old soul” when it comes to his musical tastes. The Dead, CCR, Tom Petty, Neil Young….. the sound-track of the 60’s and 70’s suits him just fine. But, he also has an inquisitive and adventurous side that includes all kinds of new music. And when he finds something that he likes, he usually shares it with me, and I end up a fan, too. Such was the case in the Fall of 2009.

We were going to visit him, and there was a concert set for that same week that he insisted we attend. He had seen this group two previous times and wanted us to experience his newest “favorite band of all time!” Always being up for a musical adventure, off we went.

“The Depot,” in Salt Lake City, Utah was a great venue for my introduction to “Old Crow Medicine Show,” and what a show it was! Raw energy, a packed audience of all ages, dancer’s that never stopped….. a great show and great music. And the best part was that I got to share it with my son. I’ve been an Old Crow fan ever since!

Their newest CD, “Carry Me Back,” has to be my favorite, and I also think it’s their best work to date. The song-writing is stronger and more eloquent than ever before, their musicianship has evolved from the garage band innocence on their earlier releases to the precise and exacting unit they are today, and their vocals have become more unique, exciting, emotional and intense. Their harmony here is super tight.

Their timing used to be loose and floppy, and on really fast songs there was that impending sense that at any moment that train might run right off the tracks! That sure isn’t the case on this CD. OCMS still takes FAST to a new level, but, they pull it off with talent and an assured swagger. Listen to the first song, “Carry Me Back To Virginia,” and “Sewanee Mountain Catfight,” and you’re going to wonder how does Ketch Secor, their group ring-master, sing that many words that fast? Just how can he spit those words out at that tempo and still have every word understandable? “Bootlegger’s Boy,” and “Mississippi Saturday Night” are also speed record entrants. Just how far these guys have come musically since their inception in 1998 is especially apparent on these four songs. Producer Ted Hutt should be commended for harnessing and channeling that OCMS “identity” into a controlled and powerful objet d’art. Working out of Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, this team effort had wonderful results, because everyone brought their A-game.

As fast and raucous as these four tunes are, the band does a complete 180 degree turn on two of the remaining songs, which are tender, soft and emotional. “Ways Of Man,” an inspirational waltz has Ketch and Jim Lauderdale on vocals with accordion and piano in the accompaniment. “Ain’t It Enough” is another waltz with a great message. The boys all focus their efforts with a close, warm performance. Both songs are lyrically very descriptive, and a sweet sense of togetherness seems to come from all the players as they made sure these two came out “just right.” They succeeded in making them my CD favorites. A video of “Ain’t It Enough” in the echo chamber at Sound Emporium Studios is included at the end of this review.

OCMS has a way of taking old subjects and making them relevant today. They do it again here…. “We Don’t Grow Tobacco” and “Half Mile Down,” both have an early Americana relevance. “Steppin’ Out,“ has a straight ahead Dixieland groove, and dobro player Gill Landry wrote and sings the two-step “Genevieve.“ Kevin Hayes and Secor did a bit of word thievery, from Hank Williams no less, and came up with a catchy sing-a-long tune called “Country Gal.” Ten of the twelve songs on this CD were either written or co-written by Ketch Secor. His thumb print is all over this project, and his vision seems to propel OCMS.

The dichotomy of anti-war lyrics set to rousing up-tempo music is very well done on the song “Levi.” Real life soldier Levi Barnard lost his life in Baghdad’s Dora Market, and when Mr. Secor learned that Levi was from Ararat, Virginia, not far from Ketch’s Shenandoah Valley home, and that Levi’s favorite song was the Old Crow anthem “Wagon Wheel,“ he was moved to write one of his best songs yet. With lyrics firmly based in the here and now, and that patented OCMS string band sound spinning it along, “Levi” will probably be one of those songs their fans will be singing for years to come. It’s memorable, heartfelt, angry AND catchy! It’s also a wonderful ode to the life and sacrifice of an American hero. Thank you Mr. Secor…. there aren’t enough songs like this one.

The personnel on “Carry Me Back” consists of Kevin Hayes on guitjo, Morgan Jahnig on upright bass, Gill Landry on dobro and vocals, Willie Watson on guitar and vocals, Cory Younts on mandolin and vocals and Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica, guitar, banjo and vocals. Their special guests were Critter Fuqua on accordion and Jim Lauderdale on vocals. I mention this because the current touring band has two different members. Critter, who was an original member, is back in the fold along with Chance McCoy, and Watson and Younts are out. Such is the revolving door of the road musician…..

My son will be home in a few days, and I have a funny feeling my copy of “Carry Me Back” will probably disappear. I’ll HAVE to replace it, because once you’re an Old Crow fan, you’re always an Old Crow fan. And yep…. this one needs to be in your collection, too.


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