Old Crow Medicine Show,
Big Iron World
(Nettwerk, 2006)

My first experience with Old Crow Medicine Show was by catching them on the tail-end of Conan O'Brien one night. I had never heard of them and didn't much pay attention when Conan introduced them -- but then, they started performing. It was their 2004 hit "Wagon Wheel," and I was blown away -- who knew old-timey music could sound so alive? I bought their self-titled debut album and was thrilled to discover "Wagon Wheel" wasn't a one-off fluke. Then in 2006 came Big Iron World -- and, to my delight, I discovered their debut album wasn't a one-off fluke, either.

Once again, OCMS makes country, bluegrass, folk and even protest songs sound fresh and new. Actually, most of the songs on Big Iron World sound like a gas, whatever the lyrics may be. Reading the words to "Minglewood Blues" might lead you to think it's a typical blues song ("Don't you ever let no woman rule your mind / She'll leave you troubled, worried all the time"), but OCMS speeds up the pace to make their problems with the opposite sex sound downright fun. "Cocaine Habit" is cheery despite it being a user's lament that name-checks Karl Rove. (Yeah, you read that right.) Their take on the old nugget "Union Maid" makes the neighborhood local sound like hootenanny, and while they lash out at busybodies on "Let It Alone," they're so guileless about it the busybodies might indeed stop their snooping, if only to give the band a hug.

There also are a few slower numbers that show off the band's grimy Southern charm. No gentility for these boys on the opening track, "Down Home Girl," a languid ode to a plain sweetheart. (But on "My Good Girl," that Southern charm turns sour, and could be taken as the first song's unhappy conclusion.) "James River Blues" forces a pause with its Depression-esque sound and lyrics ("They don't need us anymore / Haulin' freight from shore to shore / That Big Iron hauls much more / Than we ever could be before"), while "God's Got It," with its sweet revival rhythm, gently reminds listeners just who's in charge.

Big Iron World is highly recommended and a welcome reminder that Nashville -- where OCMS got its start -- can still make 'em like they used to. Or, in this case, even better.

review by
Melissa Kashner

29 December 2007

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