Album Review – Old Crow Medicine Show “Carry Me Back”
Following Old Crow Medicine Show over the years has been a journey. If you were anything like me, when you first heard their 2004 album O.C.M.S it sounded like music you’d been waiting your whole life for: old-time string music that was raw, punk, and real. It was such a viscerally-enthralling experience that touched on all your nerves, from the rawness of songs like “Tell It To Me” and “Tear It Down”, to the heart and depth of “Wagon Wheel”.
Then somewhere along the line sentiments began to sour a bit. All of a sudden you began to realize the OCMS singers were effecting their voice to sound overly-old and Southern. Authenticity is a common, worn-out subject in music, but in some ways where Old Crow started on the right side of it, they began to creep to the wrong one. Levon Helm was able to sing a song set in the Civil War without faking Southern inflections, why couldn’t Old Crow?
Then come to find out Bob Dylan had a heavy hand in “Wagon Wheel” and you began to hear it being played by a lot of string and bluegrass bands, and then even more of them, and then seemingly every single one until when you were at a live show and that opening riff rang out you immediately leaned over to your music buddy and made the international sign for inducing vomiting.
And then if you looked around, you could find some bands that were doing things similar to OCMS, only better. Bands like .357 String Band and Larry & His Flask were better musicians and songwriters, and brought even more energy.
About the time OCMS’s whole old-time string band bit felt like it had run it’s course, they hired producer Don Was to help them with their last album Tennessee Pusher, hoping to embody a more progressive sound and approach; to mature if you will. As cool of a name as Don Was is, the question was, why do you need Don Was to produce what is supposed to be a bunch of guys on the street corner singing for nickels? And then a few lineup changes and a 2011 hiatus made you wonder just how much their heart was still into this music.
That leads us to their latest album Carry Me Back. This is the boys returning to their roots of being a roots band, though there is still a little progressive Americana here, just like Tennessee Pusher wasn’t completely void of the string band setup. Having admittedly mixed emotions about OCMS going in, I found myself wanting to validate my negative sentiments about the band at first listen. Yep, here comes the first song and their still effecting their voice like Southerners from the late 1800’s, and they still have songs that veer towards the political.
But if Old Crow was attempting to rekindle the magic they captured on their older albums, they did a pretty good job here. It will never be as fresh as it was back then, but it can be just as fun. “Bootlegger’s Boy” is classic OCMS with a great story progression and enthralling music. “Steppin’ Out” with its ragtime approach has an excellent little turn of phrase and might be the best written song on the album. On “Mississippi Saturday Night”, Ketch Secor gets blowing on that harmonica like he will and the chills start rolling up your spine from the speed and recklessness.
Some of the songs you may not want to like at first, you begin to warm up to with consecutive listens, like the heavily Southern-inflected and slightly-political first three songs “Carry me Back to Virgina”, “We Don’t Grow Tobacco”, and “Levi”. “Ain’t It Enough” is the deep, heartfelt song of the collection, whose charm may have mixed results on the audience. The only two songs that seemed like hard sells were “Genevieve”, whose strait-laced vocal performance and approach seemed so out-of-place on this album (though the song itself is fine), and the overly-cornpone “Country Gal”.
Yes, the issues that concern some about Old Crow Medicine Show are still here, and yes, there is still similar versions of this music only better. But that doesn’t mean Old Crow and Carry Me Back aren’t good. Sometimes it takes a more accessible version of your favorite music to engage the masses, and if you’re a true fan of music, you will see this as a societal upgrade. Sure, it may annoy you when some frat boy in a backwards baseball cap yells “Wagon Wheel!” at a cover band, but that’s so much better than a request for the latest Brantley Gilbert song? Little victories people.
Carry Me Back is solid, is a return to what made Old Crow Medicine Show great, has some great songs, a few warts maybe, but is worth your time to explore further.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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July 29, 2012 @ 11:29 am
I was waiting for the review. You nailed it. This is one of their best imo.
July 29, 2012 @ 11:45 am
I think Mississippi Saturday Night and Bootlegger’s Boy are my favorites. This is a good album all around though. They also just released a documentary called Big Easy Express that documents the 2011 Railroad Revival tour with Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. It’s a bit on the short side at 67 minutes, but it’s still a good doc. The finale is probably the best part where all three bands do a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory.
July 29, 2012 @ 12:59 pm
I should be pickin’ this one up about the middle of the week. I’m kinda torn. I feel the oposit of you Triggerman. I only liked a couple of songs from OCMS but loved most of Tennessee Pusher. I don’t expect it to be the album of the year but I think it may end up in my top 10.
July 29, 2012 @ 1:16 pm
This one will probaly be on my own top 10 list which is getting crowed. The first 3 are pretty much set in stone right now.
July 29, 2012 @ 1:36 pm
Im guessing the old 1800 voice is Willie Watson’s, but he has sang that way from the beginning and has never changed it in his OCMS days or now that he’s solo. And I agree with you a little on Tennessee Pusher, it wasn’t great but I thought it had some gems, especially “Next Go Round.” I think is album is pretty good, definitely an improvement over he last one, but I think their best work is the live tracks you find on YouTube and other EPs that are out of print. I’m lookin forward to hearing more from Willie Watson’s solo career because I think he was most of the heart in Old Crow.
July 29, 2012 @ 3:32 pm
I agree with ” country gal” Its just a bad cliche of “Hey good lookin”. Its the “hummdinger” of the cd. But I think “genevieve” is my favorite. great cd though IMHO.
July 30, 2012 @ 4:53 am
‘bootlegger’s boy’ kicks some. nice.
July 30, 2012 @ 6:57 am
Concerning the neo-old-timey-string-band music, Pokey LaFarge blows these guys outta the water. But if folks were genuinely interested in old-timey music, they’d actually go back and discover the likes of Roscoe Holcomb, Gus Cannon, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, etc.
I wonder if Shooter Jennings will ever collaborate with these guys in order to gain his stardom of mainstream attention.
Honest Charlie's Productions
July 30, 2012 @ 8:50 am
Frank Fairfield gives Pokey a run for his money..
And how can you mention Old Timey and not mention Wade Mainer?
July 30, 2012 @ 10:29 am
I had the pleasure and good luck to see Wade Mainer when he was 100 at a bluegrass festival.It was awesome.
Honest Charlie's Productions
July 30, 2012 @ 11:50 am
Very cool. I was lucky enough to go to his 101st birthday party where he performed. I took my son with me and it was an experience I will never forget..
July 30, 2012 @ 12:03 pm
Wow bet you both had a great time!
July 30, 2012 @ 10:31 am
Honestly Production Charlie, I have yet to dig to the depths of Wade Mainer on account of my purchasing old blues and folk albums, according to my limited budget, is a slow and steady process … but my collection is growing and my wishlist is endless.
“Well why don’t you listen to it online,” you might ask? Because I only access a computer at my workplace, which has no speakers — it’s painstaking. I’ve come across an article on Frank Fairfield (which was good reading) but the speakers issue plays a role in my inability to have sampled his music too.
Thank you for your acknowlegements. Do you have any thoughts on Old Crow Medicine Show?
Honest Charlie's Productions
July 30, 2012 @ 11:49 am
Don’t take my question the wrong way I was just giving you a hard time. As for OCMS you ask? I like them and always have including the Tennessee Pusher album. I have never thought of them to be the best at what they do but they seem to be getting recognized better than others and I am okay with that as that means the style of music I love is getting great exposure. I’ve read the comments about the backwards hat frat boys but honestly I could care less who comes to see shows as I am not there to see them anyways.
July 30, 2012 @ 12:30 pm
That’s true, the stereotype of people listening to the music shouldn’t be a reason to dislike the band. One thing I do applaud them for is recognizing talent by recruiting Justin Townes Earle’s former sideman Cory Younts to play mandolin for them, but now I’m baffled as to why he was only with them for a brief stint because he’s got some serious talent.
July 30, 2012 @ 8:09 am
Maybe the difference is Dave Rawlings doing the producing?
July 30, 2012 @ 8:12 am
Great review. I’ve seen it written that Wagon Wheel is the new Freebird. That said, Robert Earl Keen has made a career of bringing real country music to backward-hatted frat boys. I guess there are worse ways to make a living.
July 30, 2012 @ 8:57 am
Yea, I’ve heard people say that WW is the new Freebird.
But, I admit it…I still like Freebird. I just don’t listen to it everyday. Same with WW.
Among some of my friends, they got sick of it because it got over covered by every wannabe OCMS type band. I guess if you’re having to endure it week in and week out, it would grow old… kinda like classic rock stations playing Freebird and Stairway ad nausem.
Thanks for the review… I’ll probably give it a shot.
July 30, 2012 @ 9:27 am
When I go see REK in Santa Cruz it’s just a bunch of us old long haired Rednecks in the audience. I went to see him at The Fillmore in San Francisco and I thought to myself “Where did all these douchebags come from?”.
Muddy Roots Music
July 30, 2012 @ 8:13 am
I saw BR5-49 open for them this weekend. Both killed it on stage!
July 30, 2012 @ 8:40 am
Been following these guys dice their debut album! Big fan! And glad to see them put out another album!!
July 30, 2012 @ 10:14 am
“Bands like .357 String Band and Larry & His Flask were better musicians”? In complete agreement other than that.
July 30, 2012 @ 2:12 pm
Thanks. WIll check out more in depth.
July 30, 2012 @ 10:07 pm
I honestly have not checked these guys out. I’ve just recognized that “some frat boy in a backwards baseball cap yells “Wagon Wheel!” at a cover band” is viable; because of this, I’ve excluded the band. However; I do agree with you that “Wagon Wheel” is better than a Tim McGraw or Eric Church song. This is active progression that Country and Underground music needs to be recognized.
I guess I might need to pick these guys up and give them a chance.
August 3, 2012 @ 10:23 am
I’m surprised more people don’t bring up Old Crow’s two albums before O.C.M.S. Greetings From Wawa and Eutaw which are just wonderful bluegrass records that are recorded and sound the way a real bluegrass album should.
February 8, 2013 @ 11:17 am
I agree. Eutaw specifically is a really great album.