The line between putting on airs and authentic expression is thinner than Jeremy Pivan’s pre-transplant hairline. But as we know, that difference is a huge one. Because of it we can make a value judgment between a whiney charlatan like Chris Carrabba and a sincerely messed-up genius like Elliott Smith. Old Crow Medicine Show lays on the old-timey vibe with a thickness, but from the chilling, three-plus-part harmonies to the straight-up studly musicianship, you know this band is legit.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s sound is dragged up from deep in the well of Americana. The five members play rhythmic mountain music with the ear for pop structures pulled from jug bands and folk balladeers, the musical chops of a bluegrass outfit, and a scraped-knee punk-rock grittiness. The band’s 2002 debut, O.C.M.S., is a contemporary folk masterpiece. Its mix of covers and original compositions bursts with an overwhelming energy that could get even the most country-averse folks to tap their feet. Big Iron World lives up to the high expectations set by the band’s debut, and this time around it’s the original tunes that truly resonate.
David Rawlings produced this set of seven originals, two traditionals (“Cocaine Habit,” “Let it Alone”) and three covers. And in his finest subtle fashion, Rawlings lets the skilled and passionate playing of the band rise to the top, no Nashville hit-maker bullshit here. Harmonicas and those damn fine harmonies pierce though layers of banjo, fiddle, upright bass and guitjo (a six-string banjo that is tuned like a guitar). But although it relies on instruments considered relics by some, Big Iron World never feels like a period piece. The band members are all in their mid-twenties and their reverence for days gone by is countered by a striking passion and youthful enthusiasm that makes it all feel alive and contemporary.
It took George Clooney’s handsome ass to wake up a lot of people to the value in American roots music. Big Iron World will fit the bill for those dabblers turned on by the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack, for the most discerning fans of the genre, and even for those who are more into alt-country acts such as Avett Brothers and Lucero.
“Down Home Girl” video
“Wagon Wheel” video“Tell It to Me” video