Saturday, April 22, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1637: Old Crow Medicine Show

Hockey update – Bruins up 2-1 in the series! 14 wins to go!

My work had me four hours on the road this week and I put the time to good use. On the way to my meeting, I gave the new Florence + the Machine album a good three listens. However, it wasn’t my next review so you’ll just have to wait until I roll that one to hear more about it.

My next randomly rolled album was what I listened to multiple times on the way home.

And here’s the review.

Disc 1637 is…Paint This Town

Artist: Old Crow Medicine Show

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Someone started painting this town and then stopped, leaving it looking like an unfinished Doodle Art. Has anyone ever finished a Doodle Art? And by finished I don’t mean “colour all the fish in the fish one” I mean colouring all the seaweed and the coral and what-not as well.

I have not. In fact, that fish Doodle Art is still lurking in the house somewhere, unfinished from years ago. But I digress…

Anyway, blah blah blah…colouring book cover…blah blah blah.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve liked Old Crow Medicine Show since their first record, but my love is an intermittent love, only surfacing about every 8-10 years or so. I give each of their records a chance, but about half the time I move on without buying. I must have been due for a good one again, because “Paint This Town” tickled my fancy.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Old Crow Medicine Show albums. Somehow the other two have avoided random selection, so this will be the first one I rank. And I rank it…third. Not that it’s bad; the other two just edged it out.

Rating: 3 stars but almost 4

Coming off my recent listen to “Sigh No More” it is hard not to compare Old Crow Medicine Show with Mumford & Sons. Both are banjo friendly folk bands, even if one comes out of the British tradition of the music and the other from American bluegrass.

With this kind of music two things are key: musicianship and authenticity. I always felt musicianship was there with Mumford & Sons but the authenticity was lacking at times. Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) lands both, demonstrating the perfectly timed urgency that makes bluegrass sound like it does, without sacrificing emotion.

There are songs that aren’t designed to give you a heavy case of the feels, but on those the band recognizes that the mission is energy. In bluegrass if it isn’t a dirge it oughtta be danceable. If those danceable fast-pacers are also loaded with some character and story, so much the better. Such is what we get from songs like “Bombs Away” that is a frenetic fiddle fest of fun, while underneath it is a journey of “don’t give a damn” destructive behaviour.

This is the first outing without original founder Critter Fuqua, who was responsible for a number of the original songs on previous albums as well. It is a travesty to lose someone named Critter from any endeavour, artistic or otherwise. I’m not enough of an OCMS devotee to properly analyze his absence, but generally I think the band survived the departure just fine. Secor remains the driving force of the band, and it no doubt helped that he also has a good bluegrassy first name (Ketch).

Secor writes or co-writes all the songs on “Paint this Town” which continues the departure of the band from doing classic bluegrass covers and branching into their own music. Secor is a first-rate songwriting talent. Not only did I like these songs, but many also had that timeless quality that made you think they were classics. If there were a third “must have” for a bluegrass band, this is it.

Case in point is “Gloryland” which has a chorus that feels like a church hymn, but lyrics that remind you that it isn’t just lost souls at the Gates of St. Peter that are being denied, but all the dispossessed and marginalized people on earth. This is OCMS’ greatest strength; utilizing old school approaches to music and mixing them with modern commentary.

Similarly, the band deploys a bit of early Bob Dylan on “New Mississippi Flag” while mixing heartfelt southern patriotism and love with a plea that we can always do better on the road to a better society.

As that Dylanesque number shows, the album is not strictly bluegrass, and there are also old school country songs like “Reasons to Run” to give the ear some variety. These songs also showcase a softer production than is present on the two earlier albums in my collection and the different musical approaches are welcome and well-placed.

Overall this is a fine addition to the catalogue of a band that continues to reach out into new soundscapes, without ever losing the main artery of their musical inspirations.

Best tracks: Paint This Town, Gloryland, Reasons to Run, New Mississippi Flag

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