No Appalachian string band has ever reached the popularity of Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS). Few artists can entertain thousands of young rockers at a Mumford & Sons concert and still preserve tradition on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Following in the footsteps of Uncle Dave Macon and Sam and Kirk McGee, OCMS has become the Opry’s premiere string band since becoming Opry members last fall.
We promise to keep the string band sound alive and kicking on the Grand Ole Opry for years and years to come. –OCMS
Appealling to fans of country, rock, bluegrass, Americana, and folk, OCMS may maintain the most diverse audience of any popular band today. Combining the old-timey string band sound with rock intensity and country sensibility, they have developed an authentic sound which is packed with originality while still retaining a keen eye on tradition. No matter your musical preference, there is something for fans of all shapes and sizes on OCMS’s latest album, Remedy.
The album opens up with quite possibly the only conjugal visit song recorded by an Opry member.
Come on, we’re unshackled tonight
I got a little time off for good behavior
So let’s rock it in the Brushy Mountain conjugal trailer
Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer is a rockin’ number chock full of bluesy harmonica and dobro. Written by Ketch Secor, OCMS’s twist on the death row song is one-of-a-kind.
Remedy includes another unique prison song. The Warden closes the record in the exact opposite way that Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer opens it. The hauntingly simple song focuses on a prisoner’s analysis of the warden, and of imprisonment in general.
I look through the bars to look at the stars
And we’re all the same so it seems
And just like me I wonder if he
Can ever find peace in his dreams
How does the warden sleep at night
After the long day’s through
Does he toss and turn? Does his conscience burn?
Is he a prisoner too?
This powerful song is one that will cause you to ponder its message long after you hear its last note.
8 Dogs 8 Banjos is an original as well, although it sounds as if it could have been borrowed from some of the Opry’s early “hillbilly” string bands. Any 21st century barn dance would be advised to include 8 Dogs 8 Banjos in the playlist. Giving shout outs to all things southern including dogs, banjos, and sweet tea, good luck trying not to clap and sing along to this one.
Although known for having a good time, don’t sell OCMS short on depth. The reflective Dearly Departed Friend is a poignant song telling of a young man’s burial.
Standing by the grave of a dearly departed friend
With nothing much to say except sorry it turned out like it did
21 guns for 21 years and American flags in the wind
Standing by the grave of a dearly departed friend
The song is touching without being sappy, realistic without being cynical. It is delivered as a one-sided conversation between a young man and his fellow comrade who died in battle. The unique delivery gives the song the personality that two buddies would have, as there are cracks on the departed’s mother’s new boyfriend, celebration over Tennessee beating Georgia, and complaints about PTSD. The song’s arrangement is relatively simple, allowing the creativity of the song style to be in the spotlight. Dearly Departed Friend should put to rest the naysayers who discredit OCMS’s ability to construct mature music.
Sweet Amarillo has been the album’s lead single, and is definitely a highlight on the album. Co-written with Bob Dylan, Sweet Amarillo is much more country-sounding than the band’s other Dylan collaboration, Wagon Wheel. The song is spiced up with some Cajun fiddle and accordion, a nice change of pace with beautifully written lyrics. Garth Brooks could have had a mega-hit with Sweet Amarillo twenty-some years ago, however, the “rough around the edges” approach which OCMS applies to the song downplays its commercial appeal. The authenticity of Sweet Amarillo elevates it to more than just a good song.
Never fear bluegrass fans… OCMS salutes one of their biggest influences on Remedy: Bluegrass Hall of Famer, Doc Watson. The band credits Doc with giving the band their first “big break” after he invited them to play MerleFest upon meeting them in Boone, NC. They salute the music of the late Doc and Merle Watson with Doc’s Day.
He said if you wanna rock, listen to Doc
If you want the girls better pick like Merle
Cause them High Country blues
Still blow all the women away
So beat on the corner with your flat top box
Pick on the banjos, boys, don’t stop
Give me old-time music, Lord, make it hot
Just like it was in Doc’s day
The song’s melody has a big dose of Deep River Blues worked into it, while name-dropping such Watson classics as Mama Don’t Allow, Bottle of Wine, and Dark As A Dungeon in the lyrics. This is a fun little song, and one bluegrass fans should be glad to see recorded. As diverse as OCMS’s audience is, Doc’s Day is liable to introduce many new fans to the music of Doc Watson. That should cause even the staunchest traditionalists to crack a smile.
Remedy may not be appropriate for fans under the age of sixteen. The album does include suggestive lyrics in Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer (I assume you gathered that from the title…), a little salty language in spots (one of the songs is called S*** Creek), and a brief marijuana reference (a step down from whole songs dedicated to illegal substances).
Old Crow Medicine Show’s unique style of the old time Appalachian string band sound has greatly contributed to the resurgence in popularity of American roots music. For fans of Americana and other “bluegrass friendly” forms of music, be sure to check out Remedy from Old Crow Medicine Show. It’s definitely one of their best.
photo by LuAnn Adams
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Category: Music Reviews
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