Old Crow Medicine Show : Carry Me Back

Dispensing heartfelt Southern stories of past and present, Old Crow Medicine Show bandleader Ketch Secor is quoted as saying, “I wish that I was born about 75 years ago. Then I could have made my debut on the Opry in 1935.” This comment concisely sums up the music of Old Crow Medicine Show, whose sound harkens back to the Depression-era South.

Hailing from the Empire State, the band members have been a hardworking and hard-touring bunch. Pushing their van to the limits since 1998, they received a big break when they were scheduled by Doc Watson himself to play at his MerleFest. This exposure prompted the band to relocate in 2000 to Nashville, Tennessee, where they exploded on the city’s crowded and competitive live music scene. Gracing the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, touring with Merle Haggard, frequent appearances on Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, and a relentless touring schedule fueled the formation of a rabid fan-base.

The band recorded their latest release, Carry Me Back, in Nashville at the legendary Sound Emporium Studios. With production elements recalling Big Iron World (2006) and Tennessee Pusher (2008), the smoothness and consistency of the recording lacks some of the rough grit evident on earlier releases. The album opens quickly with “Carry Me Back to Virginia,” a tune that is characteristic of the OCMS sound with a focus on tight, concise picking, exceptional harmonies, and lyrics depicting the Southern heritage. “We Don’t Grow Tobacco” and “Levi” continue this respectful nod to those who work hard, and have little to show but plenty to share. My favorite song on this latest release is “Mississippi Saturday Night,” which could easily be a track on either of their first two studio releases, Greetings From Wawa or Eutaw. Fast and raw, this tune has equally as fast lyrics that display the creative abilities of the band and their talent for phrasing and delivery.  Two other standout tracks are “Half Mile Down” and “Sewanee Mountain Catfight,” which both convey the hard-hitting sound that fans have come to expect.

It’s hard to replicate the feel of a live performance in the studio, but this is something Old Crow Medicine Show accomplish on their studio releases. Carry Me Back delivers tight, polished bluegrass, but preserves the high energy and distinctive live sound of this band. Although the album fails to stretch the creative boundaries that OCMS has firmly planted, it is a solid entry in their ever-growing catalog, bolstered by a good salvo of catchy songs.

Carry Me Back is out now on ATO Records.