Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back

*This is an initial impressions review.

Old Crow Medicine Show, or OCMS as their fans call them, are a well-respected bluegrass band perhaps most famous for their song “Wagon Wheel.”  They are not only one of the most popular bluegrass groups in the United States, they are also one of the most-covered groups.  Try searching for OCMS on YouTube sometime.  It’s stunning.

In any event, the band released a new album Carry Me Back which has OCMS’s characteristic blend of classic bluegrass sound and a little newgrass feel.  The group’s strings are in the highest class around.  Their vocal blending is stellar, particularly on this recording.  It’s an album that will find a welcome audience among a broad range of generational fans.  The southern and Appalachian themes that pervade the songs make for a traditional and rooted brand of music.

The first song “Carry Me Back” has a Civil War theme, which is timely because this is the 150th anniversary of the war (2011-2015).   It’s my personal opinion that it’s hard to write a song about such a difficult subject without sounding overly morose or disturbingly cheesy.  The OCMS song has a nice musical base to it, but like other songs that celebrate southern soldiers it tends to romanticize the Confederate cause.

“Ain’t It Enough” slows the album down a bit from the other tunes.  It highlights the softer side of the group and really shows off the incredible vocal harmonies.  “For it’s only one life we’ve got… and ain’t it enough?”  It’s a bit more existential than might come across at first blush, essentially encouraging folks to enjoy life.  There’s so much here to be happy about… ain’t it enough?

The party track “Mississippi Saturday Night” is every bit the song the title implies.  It’s an upbeat, fun, and crazy kind of song.  “Ladies in the juke joint lookin’ for a fight… they’ll hunt you like a rabbit on a Mississippi Saturday night.”  Actually the song that follows it “Steppin’ Out” is a similarly upbeat song.  They both are the fun kind of bluegrass that gets toes tappin’.

“Sewanee Mountain Catfight” is another great typical bluegrass song.  It has every element well balanced, including the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo all having important parts.  The quick vocals, country-themed lyrics, and again tight harmonies it’s a classic OCMS song.  The fiddles in particular seem to shine on this song.  With a gentle hat tip to the country group Alabama, these boys could certainly play in Texas.

The last song “Ways of Man” slows things a bit and reflects more of the roots country or early folk artists.  It’s a much simpler sound, but it’s good.  “Just tryin’ to make sense of life any way that we can… and foolin’ ourselves with the ways of man.”  It seems to dance a bit around theology, but ultimately addresses life on earth with an attitude that wants listeners to think from a humanistic perspective.  What can or could we do to help each other?  It’s good.  Oh, and I almost forgot, it has an accordion.  Awesome.

Overall the OCMS album will be great for fans of the band.  New listeners might find a few tracks to skip here, but anyone who likes bluegrass or roots country will enjoy them.  They are the standard for bluegrass at the moment and this album does not disappoint.  About half of the songs will have your toes tapping and might even encourage some dancing!  Have fun with that, ya’ll.

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