When old-time Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus last summer, it left plenty of fans wondering if the band was falling silent for good. Thankfully, the hiatus was short-lived, and the band’s new release Carry Me Back is full of fresh energy.
Bands don’t always give the details about the inside relationships between bandmates, but 2012 brought some personnel changes for OCMS that are cause for some speculation. Simply put—after a long separation (partly to get sober), original band member Critter Fuqua is back on board, and original band member Willie Watson is out. Also, mandolin player Cory Younts is out, and fiddler Chance McCoy is in—although I don’t know how that fits into the scheme of things. Anyhow, OCMS is refitted, retooled and ready to go.
Ironically, the energy of Carry Me Back can’t fully be attributed to the personnel changes of the band, because the record was apparently mostly “in the can” before the band transition was complete. Nevertheless, this is a record whose release is near-perfect timing in a climate primed by the intense popularity of new-folk bands like Mumford & Sons and Avett Brothers—and it’s apparent that Old Crow Medicine Show intends to make the most of the opportunity. OCMS puts its best feet forward off the bat with the first two tracks “Carry Me Back” and “We Don’t Grow Tobacco,” both of which could easily become signature songs for the band. Other high points include the moving ballad “Levi,” a song about a soldier who died in Iraq, and the almost manic “Mississippi Saturday Night,” (I dare you not to clap or tap during this one).
While OCMS plays mostly original tunes, their overall sound (ranging from folk to bluegrass to old-time string a la Carolina Chocolate Drops) is more authentic than their alt-folk peers, making them sound at times like they are a throwback to pre-war times (and a lot older than they really are). Indeed, were it not for the success of bands like Mumford & Sons, this band could easily have been passed off as a historical re-enactment. But in 2012, folk and Americana/roots are enjoying a new wave of popularity that might just give OCMS the chance they need to gain the higher profile they truly deserve.
Perhaps the only complaint about Carry Me Back is that it is pretty heavy on the up-tempo numbers, settling into a more reflective vein only toward the end. On the other hand, this might be just what the doctor ordered at this point in OCMS’ career, especially given the tepid reception of 2008’s Tennessee Pusher. This record serves as a pan-rattling wake-up call, as if Old Crow Medicine Show is saying, “HEY! We’re here, we’re back, we’re better than ever.”
To which I say—welcome back, guys.
ALBUM RATING: 3.5 Stars (out of five)