Hurple Hoopla

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

For a bunch of young'ins these guys sure do sound old. In fact, they sound as old as the hills. That's a compliment. From their fist self-released CD, Greetings From WAWA, OCMS has been the best string band revival act in the world. That CD was a breath of fresh air in a stagnant traditional-bluegrass market because, while it was faithful and reverent to the classics, the band played the music with such an enthusiastic burst of energy that you couldn't help but be swept up in the fun. For their first major label release, 2003(?)'s OCMS, unfortunately, that energy was oddly missing. Why sign a band that plays early 20th century style string band material with a modern punk style energy and then record them in such a way as to suck every bit of that energy out of the results? Sometimes my mind boggles at the thought process of major label executives. (From refusing Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Cheap Trick's "Twisted Heart," the trail of amazing recordings (and the best of the bands' output in those examples) left in the trash bin because they're not "market friendly" is stupefying. And that's not even bringing up the label troubles of Neil Young in the 80's or John Fogerty in the 70's).

This time, though, I am happy to report that the amazing energy of the self-released OCMS CDs is back on Big Iron World. While none of the songs on this CD could be called "punk bluegrass" like those on some of their earlier CDs, the more energetic performances go a long way in rehabilitating their style, especially in their 21st century update of the 1920's jug-band classic "Cocaine Habit" where they name-check Karl Rove and Elijah Wood. As wonderful as that song is, all the songs are infectious and spirited, even the requisite ballads. For any band, on any album, that is quite an accomplishment. It is even more so when the band in question is a retro-revival band. (Well, unless that band was organized by Brian Setzer, who seems to be the world's foremost expert on reviving long dormant musical styles.) As such, the best compliment I can possibly give to this CD, and, indeed, to any in this band's catalog, is that it is impossible to tell, without referencing the liner notes, which of the songs are originals and which are covers.*

If you're a fan of old-style country, or, if you're a fan of music, at all, you owe it to yourself to check out this album.

* - for your reference, the covers are: "Down Home Girl" "Cocaine Habit" "Minglewood Blues" "Union Maid" and "Let It Alone"

** - Also of note, the following disclaimer is from the label that released this album, from their website: "Litigation is destructive, it must stop .... as per Nettwerk copyrights, we have never sued anybody and all our music is open source to encourage fans to share it with others and help us promote our Artists. As per those Artists we manage on other labels (Majors), we take issue with those labels claiming that litigating our fans is in our interest, as it clearly is not."


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