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Old Crow serves good meds

House of Blues, Boston, August 9, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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For some reason, Old Crow Medicine Show waited five years to finally release "Carry Me Back," the country/bluegrass band's follow-up to 2008's "Tennessee Pusher." Not only is the new disc quite fine, but so is Old Crow in concert in what turned out to be a sold-out festival (for one night anyway) of like-minded bands.

The evening started off with the Los Angeles-based duo, The Milk Carton Kids, who for the final song anyway, quieted the crowd when they got louder. Maybe it wasn't the best setting for the Kids, but they showed promise.

The Lumineers proved to be a very strong middle act. The band has gained a lot of buzz since releasing its debut in April with a chunk of airplay for its hit Ho Hey.

While a trio in constitution, the focus clearly was on lead singer Wesley Schultz. He is a strong singer with a lot of charisma and presence. That wasn't apparent so much from his talking, but he exuded a lot of confidence and authenticity in his delivery. He clearly was well schooled in Dylan stylistically, although Schultz sings a lot better.

Neyla Pekarek contributed meaty sounds on cello here (and later with Old Crow), and her occasional backing vocals added a nice touch.

The Denver-based band kept a fast pace going with a bunch of short songs - almost too short - because in most cases, it felt like they could have been longer. Once The Lumineers changed gears to stretching them out, that felt just right.

In the course of a quick-paced 40-minute stint it was easy to see why The Lumineers have gained the acclaim they have given the songs and Schultz.

Old Crow certainly brings a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy to the table. How couldn't they given the style of music? A number of songs featured two fiddles and two banjos, sometimes even five-part harmony spearheading. They delved into country, bluegrass, Americana and old time music plus a touch of the blues.

Not afraid to push the new disc at all, Old Crow started the festivities off with the fiddles of Carry Me Back To Virginia, a Civil War- themed song with echoes of bluegrass and Celtics sounds.

OCMS then reached back to "Pusher" (interestingly, they didn't play the title track) for the catchy Alabama High-Test. The southern themes continued elsewhere in such songs as the very fine Mississippi Saturday Night and Sewanee Mountain Catfight.

To say that Old Crow was dexterous would be an understatement. There was a lot of switching up of instruments throughout their 100-minute set. It didn't seem to matter who played what - it was all good.

Secor was the focal point of the band with his fiddle playing and taking lead vocals. But the vocal chores were certainly spread around. Critter Fuqua, an original member, who rejoined the band in January (while guitarist/vocalist Willie Watson split), took many lead vocals (starting with Big Time in the Jungle from the band's 2004 debut) and was no slouch to Secor. Kevin Hayes , who mainly manned banjo for most of the night towards the back of the stage, took over singing chores for Humdinger.

Secor brings it with his fiddle and harp playing and singing. But he also played up his local knowledge. A lot of these acts coming through pander big time to the local crowd saying they're Red Sox fans or wearing a local team's shirt. That would have been easy to do for Secor given that Fenway Park was literally across the street.

Instead, he rattled off a zillion cities and towns in Massachusetts (okay, he did mispronounce Athol), Boston neighborhoods and more. For awhile it was cute, but ultimately Secor's rattling off of communities got a bit tiresome. It was as if he were trying too hard. A bit less would have been more.

But when concentrating on the music, Old Crow Medicine Show was good medicine. The encore was pretty much reserved for covers except the first song, Hard to Love. From there, it was a case of artists that seem to have influenced Old Crow and their compadres on this ball.

OCMS paid homage to Woody Guthrie on I Hear Them All segued into This Land is Your Land, an excellent combination and befitting of the night.

The Rolling Stones' bluesy Sweet Virginia featured Schultz in an on-target version of the song.

The closing numbers - The Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Dylan's I Shall Be Released - gave the night the sense of a mini festival - for one night anyway with everyone on stage, soaking in the good vibe - bands and fans alike.