What’s in a name? For Old Crow Medicine Show, quite a lot. Like the traveling minstrel acts it harkens back to, the rootsy Nashville string ensemble started as a group of buskers roaming through Canada, before happening on a North Carolina pharmacy storefront, where they caught the ear of country legend Doc Watson. The band opened for Dolly Parton soon after, and became a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry and on A Prairie Home Companion.
The group’s 1920s-style instrumentation is harmonica-laced and heavy on fiddle, banjo and slide guitar, and its members jam with an Appalachian-like muscle that can evade mainstream counterparts such as Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. But OCMS’s revivalism doesn’t bar relevance to younger listeners. Its renditions of classics like “CC Rider” and “Down Home Girl” are subtly rocked up, and, in its bulkier repertoire of original compositions, bluegrass strains accompany lyrics about contemporary gripes, like meth addiction. (It’s no coincidence that “Wagon Wheel,” which pairs the chorus of an unfinished Dylan tune with an original verse, is both a gold-seller and the band’s most obvious marriage of old and new.)
Carry Me Back, out last month, follows in this vein. The album’s most memorable track, the heartbreaking “Levi,” honors a Virginia soldier killed in Iraq, but the disc also contains celebratory notes like the title track, a rollicking reverie in which singer-fiddler Ketch Secor longs for the Virginia of his childhood and for a simpler time older than he is. A close listen suggests that, whatever the state of the union, Americana is alive and well.—Nina Stoller-Lindsey