Old Crow Medicine Show is one of the most widely beloved bands you think you’ve never heard of. Their 2004 release “Wagon Wheel,” which appeared on their self-titled album and was a collaboration between singer Ketch Secor and Bob Dylan, is one of those songs that it seems everyone knows even if they can’t name the artist. The chorus appears on t-shirts and can draw a wide range of likes when posted as a Facebook status. Playing it at parties will often result in sing-a-longs and excited cries of, “You know this song?! I love this song!”
But the platinum selling “Wagon Wheel” only scratches the surface of Old Crow’s incredible collection of bluegrass/Americana/alt-country tunes. The Nashville based string band has released four albums, with a fifth being released today. They are almost constantly on tour, with members dropping out for periods of time and replaced by others. Although one gets a sense of their raw energy through albums, it’s on stage that Old Crow truly comes to life. The band plays numerous festivals and appears regularly at the Grand Ole Opry, as well as radio shows like A Prairie Home Companion. I’ve seen them twice, both shows lasting for multiple hours and pulsing with unstoppable energy. Fun story: I showed up six hours early for my first Old Crow show and Ketch himself brought me out a signed tour poster.
Their latest release, titled “Remedy,” covers the incredible range that has made Old Crow an underground favorite since they were first discovered busking in front of a pharmacy in 2000. While 2012’s “Carry Me Back” was a throwback to the Civil War era songs their early albums were built on, “Remedy” seems to push Old Crow closer to the modern era, combining more classic country sounds with the band’s signature strings. The 45-minute album weaves from high energy, down-and-dirty bar tunes to slower, emotional ballads.
Back to back “Dearly Departed Friend” and “Firewater” combine heartrending lyrics with delicately beautiful instrumentals. The rollicking “Mean Enough World” puts a fun spin on the band’s social commentary, joining the ranks of “Ain’t It Enough,” “I Hear Them All,” and “We’re All In This Together.” “Brave Boys” and “Tennessee Bound” showcase the fast paced strings Old Crow fans expect, and the inclusion of percussion on their second Bob Dylan collaboration “Sweet Amarillo” doesn’t overpower the band’s Americana appeal. Gil Landry’s mournful drawl closes the album well on “The Warden,” but fans of “Genevieve” and “Mary’s Kitchen” will be left wishing for more.
“Remedy” will make old fans happy and could appeal to a wider fan base more than previous recordings. There is plenty of fodder for live shows, but the album can be enjoyed fully while listening at home. The absence of Willie Watson (who recently released his solo debut) is still heavily felt given his distinctive vocals on past albums. But all in all, “Remedy” is a solid release highlighting the best of Old Crow Medicine Show ten years after their debut album.
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