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Old Crow Medicine Show: O.C.M.S.


Old Crow Medicine Show

Album: O.C.M.S.
Label: Nettwerk

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It's hard to imagine why five young men would want to strap on acoustic string instruments and try like hell to sound like Appalachian pickers from the '30s. It's not like authentic period bluegrass is all that tough to find, and there's always a danger, when the rock 'n' roll generation turns neo-trad, that the result will come off as little more than a smirky novelty. (See: Bad Livers, Hayseed Dixie.) So, first and foremost, credit the raucous folk quintet Old Crow Medicine Show for not sounding like a big joke. Sure, the group plays with punky abandon, and yes, it digs up curious mountain-music chestnuts like "Tell It To Me" (a simultaneous celebration of corn liquor and condemnation of cocaine), but all that proves is that the band isn't humorless. It also shows savvy in its choice of David Rawlings to produce its major-label debut, O.C.M.S. Rawlings is equally at home with hardcore traditionalist folk music and more modern alt-country, and he knows how to refurbish antiques, making them functional without losing their classic quality. For proof, listen to Old Crow Medicine Show's vigorous performance of "Tear It Down," where Ketch Secor's affected, nasal lead vocals and the group's purposefully rinky-dink backup vocals sound like they were lifted from an old 78, while the mix of guitars, banjo, upright bass, and fiddle sounds fresh and vibrant. The track seems familiar, but not dusty. It's also telling that the best song on O.C.M.S. is an original, "Big Time In The Jungle"–a Vietnam narrative that connects Old Crow Medicine Show to hippie-era jug-band revivalists like Country Joe & The Fish and Mungo Jerry. The result proves that the best throwback musicians steer clear of redundancy when they see their tradition as a living, growing thing, not to be preserved under glass.