We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Old Crow Medicine Show, who have 9 studio albums under their belt and therefore plenty of scope when choosing their favourites for their first ‘Best Of’ compilation. They epitomise the best of country roots and Americana and have become mainstays at the Grand Ole Opry. They also have one of the best front men in Ketch Secor who helped form the group back in 1998, and is the focal point of their live performances.
Despite their extensive back catalogue, this ‘best of’ compilation has drawn on tracks from only three albums. They were recorded on Nettwerk records between 2004 and 2008 and it may well be that their 2004 album ‘Old Crow Medicine Show’, their 2006 album ‘Big Iron World’ and the 2008 release ‘Tennessee Pusher’ were the only ones available for contractual reasons.
Most, however, associate OCMS with ‘Wagon Wheel’, a Secor composition utilising the iconic Bob Dylan lyrics ‘Rock Me Mamma’ into a song that has gone into country folklore due to the Darius Rucker cover. It opens this 14-track compilation.
As an introduction to the Crows’ sound and style. there isn’t anything that could replace ‘Wagon Wheel’. It may be overplayed but their version is far more rootsy than Rucker’s cover and demonstrates admirably the bands use of traditional country instrumentation.
The band started as buskers in New York state and they have deliberately retained that ‘under-produced’ feel about much of the tracks here. Old Crow fans will be very familiar with most of the songs on offer. They have drawn heavily on their own songs rather than the country covers that made up most of their early albums, but of most interest to the regulars will the inclusion of two brand new tracks ‘Black Haired Quebecoise’ and ‘Heart Up In The Sky’. Both are fiddle-driven and we predict that both will become OCMS standards.
We say ‘brand new’ tracks but in fact both were recorded in 2006 for the ‘Big Iron World’ sessions but were never released. For some unexplained reason these two excellent songs were just sitting around on an unused studio session tape.
‘Black Haired Quebecoise’ is a truck driver’s tale of seeking comforts over the French-Canadian border. It is sang half English, half French but has the classic Old Crow style chorus where the band and, we expect, most of the audience can sing in unison.
‘Heart Up In The Sky’ is another Ketch Secor composition. It was written before the band was formed and it’s curious that a song with this quality and pedigree is only now allowed to shine.
For lovers of traditional country music, Old Crow Medicine Show have provided many highlights and as an introduction to the band, this compilation should open a few doors to new converts. It’s also being released on vinyl which will be first time these tracks have appeared on that format.
What’s not to like? Classic country, two ‘new’ tracks and the chance to add Old Crow Medicine Show to your vinyl collection.