Old Crow Medicine Show found success with the band's second CD, the 2006 release "Big Iron World." That CD was heavy on traditional, pre-1960s covers. The third CD delivers original new songs; all but one is an original by various permutations of the quintet. But this CD also has an unexpected retro feel. Much of it hearkens back to country-flavored groups of the 1960s and early 1970s, a la The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Producer Don Was takes the controls, and OCMS feels more polished, for better or worse, as a result. The strengths of the band are the vocal harmonies and the inventive arrangements. The second song, Highway Halo, showcases the group's easygoing appeal. Keith Secor - the primary songwriter and lead vocalist on this recording, though not the previous ones - uses his voice to have fun with his simple lyrics, and the plain words don't get in the way of delightful harmonies and guitar and harmonica riffs.
Most of the CD is more somber. There's a running motif of excess and addiction, and several songs are ambitious in scope. The gamble pays off to varying degrees. The title song works well. A song about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., is more risky. The merits of Motel in Memphis can only be measured subjectively. But the beautiful melody is undoubtedly a sincere effort to live up to the challenge of the subject.