When first encountering the old time fury of Old Crow Medicine Show a few years back, their performance left mixed emotions. Not about the quality of their music, an undeniably searing distillation of the classic pre-bluegrass stringband sound, but about what happens next. They have already, with their fiery gigs and two murky-but-intriguing self-released albums, ripped old time music kicking and screaming from the bosoms of the academics and lackluster stylists who populate much of the music today. But what's left to do? Can old time (and Old Crow) grow?
This record, on a well-funded Los Angeles label (imagine that!), is an emphatic, almost-hedonistically positive answer. The band has progressed brilliantly from imitators to impersonators to the full-born embodiment of their hillbilly forefathers, capable of informing their music not only with accuracy and precision, but with their own distinct personality. Old Crow's undeniable charisma is the key: the sorta-self-titled O.C.M.S. is a portrait of a focused stringband who take what they want from rock 'n' roll and worry little about boundaries. Producer David Rawlings keeps things clean and sturdy, and the band responds with joyful abandon. Smart original songs and impassioned singing collide with the old school ruckus of banjos, fiddles, and steel guitars in a melange that is entirely modern, yet invested with the power and resonance of what came before.
In a landscape populated by dreary revivalists, the Old Crow Medicine Show remind us that this music can be dangerous, passionate, and endlessly, raggedly beautiful.