One of the beauties of an MP3 deck, playing everything you have loaded for years back to you at random, is the way it nudges you into constant reassessment.
Time after time for several years now, the question Hey, Who’s This!! in my kitchen has returned the answer The Old Crow Medicine Show. And they have upgraded themselves in my personal jukebox from likeable old-time revivalists to top-rank geniuses.
Their first worldwide release, in 2004, just called O.C.M.S, grabbed my attention because it was produced by Saint David Rawlings, partner of the glorious Gillian Welch, and Welch put in a session on drums. The New Yorker summed it up as: “Heartbreaking ballads and unfastened fiddle charged with the vigor of punk.”
Half the songs were traditional or established, which I always think a nice gesture of proper humility by a young band, and their version of CC Rider, done as country soul, was one of several tracks which sat me up – although my all-time favourite version of that one remains a bellowed rocking blues by Sonny Moorman & the Dogs on an essential collection called The Sun Studio Story, which is now surprisingly hard to find.
Anyway, the material written by four of the OCMS line-up, in various combinations, was certainly not disappointing. And their 2006 album, Big Iron World, backed up all the promises in the debut. In the covers, a version of Down Home Girl, written by Lieber & Stoller, stood up brilliantly against the benchmarks set by Elvis, the Coasters and the Rolling Stones. You can get it, with some video, on YouTube, bless em, at http://tinyurl.com/9h9anxh/
It was on Tennessee Pusher, in 2008, that the strength of their own material really began to stand out. I absolutely loved the redneck party song Humdinger …
We got wine, whiskey, women and guns/ How can you afford not to have any fun/ If you’re not a folk singer/ We’ll have a humdinger/
But the track I would nominate as best showcase for their talents is Greatest Hustler Of All. YouTube has it, without video, at http://tinyurl.com/9jjw2lf/
They have also done a lovely updating of Lift Him Up, Blind Alfred Reed’s plea for compassion for the street bum – http://tinyurl.com/ob3vut/
In 2009, they were backing band to Rawlings & Welch on Friend Of A Friend, attributed to The Dave Rawlings Machine, and I found myself wishing the King & Queen of Newgrass would have stood back for them a bit more.
The OCMS might have felt the same because they have gone it alone on this year’s release, Carry Me Back – and have not suffered. One of the founder members is back after a holiday to dry out and another is temporarily out of play. But they are a country band, after all, and both sound and songwriting appear to be good as ever. The top track, We Don’t Grow Tobacco Round Here No More, is a new country classic which I bet will pluck a few heartstrings in farming country everywhere – http://tinyurl.com/cwlhas9/
The boys recently made a tour film, Big Easy Express, with Mumford & Sons and other folk revivalists they could blow out of the water. And they have announced a tour taking in Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester and London, next Jan/Feb (2013)- see http://www.crowmedicine.com/