Old Crow Medicine Show's self-titled first album came out in 2004, and like so many people, I didn't know. Tsk. Their edgy take on traditional folk and bluegrass was so far off my radar, I probably wouldn't have cared if I had known. But then there's dumb luck. I happened to catch this youthful fivesome performing "Wagon Wheel" on a late-night talk show and I had to have the album. And ever since about my 10th listen to the 11 tracks of traditional and traditional-sounding mountain music, I've been running around trying to make O.C.M.S. converts of everyone I know; the album is that good. I'm not the only one who recognizes how much this group--that's Ketch Secor on vocals, fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Critter Fuqua on vocals, banjo and guitar; Kevin Hayes on guitjo; Morgan Jahnig on upright bass; and Willie Watson on vocals, guitar and banjo--kicks ass. Over the last few years, they've been making all the impressive stops an old-timey country bluegrass group can make, including performances on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion and at the Grand Ole Opry.
The group's second release, Big Iron World, just came out at the end of August. The album is very much in the same vein as their first--a good thing. However, after just a few getting-to-know-you listens, something kept troubling me. The overall sound was just fine, the musicianship as spirited and technically skilled as ever. But something wasn't clicking; I didn't have that strange sensation of needing to play Big Iron World over and over until I knew it by heart, like you do with an instant favorite. And it occurred to me: If this album was, say, a lovely little print of an Albrecht Dürer hare, it wouldn't be the print you originally purchased in the Albertina Museum's gift shop, but instead, the color photocopy of that picture you made at home on your laser printer. But that isn't wholly it, either. Big Iron World is a lot like O.C.M.S. in style and content (there's even another song about cocaine ... did people sing a lot about the nose candy back in old-timey days?), but, somehow slicker. My favorite tracks here include the rollicking "Minglewood Blues" and the wistful "I Hear Them All."
Don't get me wrong; Big Iron World is a really good album; it's just that Old Crow Medicine Show set the bar so darned high the last time around. That said, when their next album comes out, I'll definitely have to have that one, too.