Old Crow Medicine Show
Carry Me Back
Rating: 4 stars
What’s great about the new album from Old Crow Medicine Show? Well, everything, really.
As they have since they released their debut way back in 2004, their mastery of the idiom is on full display, their songwriting is equal to the great names in American music (think Cash and Nelson), their musicianship is without peer and their energy remains as tight as a drum and as brash as a punk rocker.
Witness the title track, “Carry Me Back (To Virginia)”: two-minutes and 40 seconds of two-steppin’ hoedown music, the kind of character song that inspires, at minimum volume, a bit of knee slapping and, at maximum, a full-on reenactment of the Civil War (or maybe Gone With The Wind).
“Levi” offers us another character sketch: it’s about a man, a bottle of mooonshine and a gun (and you can guess the rest). “Country Gal,” complete with a nod to Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’,” paints another picture of the American gothic life, albeit with a far more favorable outcome than came to our friend Levi.
Never ones to shy from a bit of politics, O.C.M.S. tell the story of a working hand on the t’backy farm, “cuttin’ that wicked weed,” with a tune called “We Don’t Grow Tobacco.” But, as the title tells us, he’s “sad to say, (he’s) lived to see the day (when) we don’t grow tobacco around here no more.”
Meanwhile, “Mississippi Saturday Night” can only be described as what Commander Cody would’ve sounded like had he recorded with The Ramones: a coffee and No-Doz race through everyone’s three favorite chords (I and IV and V, that is), a speeding compendium of everything that happens from New Orleans to Natchez.
It’s a kindler gentler story told with “Ain’t It Enough,” a Dylan-esque waltz that asks us “ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world, to be part of the picture whatever its worth?” Indeed it is, when you “put your arms around each other and love one another, for it’s only one life that we got … and ain’t it enough?” Also on the softer side is “Genevieve,” a beautiful medium tempo ballad, lyrically on par with Robert Hunter, musically of the same quality you’d expect of Townes Van Zant or Guy Clark. Another simple waltz, “Ways Of Man,” could have been a Willie Nelson tune but it’s not: it’s O.C.M.S. singing about what happens when we go crazy “burning both ends.”
Hoedowns, two-steps, Carolina do-si-do’s and beautifully rendered ballads. Yeah, it’s the new OCMS album and, not surprisingly, it’s simple and great (and simply great).