Over 20 years after a chance encounter with Doc Watson on King Street in downtown Boone, NC landed them a Merlefest slot that launched their career, Old Crow Medicine Show still carries the torch of traditional barn-burning bluegrass into the 21st century while continuing to push boundaries and defy expectations along the way. Comprised of Charlie Worsham (guitar, banjo, vocals), Joe Andrews (pedal steel, guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro), Morgan Jahnig (upright bass), Ketch Secor (fiddle, harmonica, guitar, banjo, vocals), Cory Younts (mandolin, keyboards, drums, vocals), and Critter Fuqua (slide guitar, banjo, guitar, vocals), OCMS has flown high throughout six studio albums. 2019, however, sees the release of OCMS’s first formal live release – Live At The Ryman. Out on Columbia Records on October 4th, Live At The Ryman finds the band bringing their high energy live show beyond the venue for the first time. OCMS tears through a collection of fan favorites and band classics including their RIAA Platinum certified hit “Wagon Wheel.” Margo Price guests on “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”, Molly Tuttle joins the band on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and harmonica legend Lee Oskar sits in on “C.C. Rider”. A mix of OCMS originals and OCMS’s take on traditional songs makes for an inviting collection to showcase OCMS’s diverse tastes and talents while providing an entertaining evening Live At The Ryman.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we are broadcasting live from the mother church of country music, welcome to the Ryman Auditorium…Old Crow Medicine Show.” The record begins with cheers, applause, and a revival like vigor followed by OCMS’s vaudeville inspired take on “Tell It To Me” complete with barrelhouse piano, harmonica, and a strummed banjo. OCMS reaches beyond their bluegrass foundation into traditional country in this take as evident in the piano and pedal steel. “Drink your corn liquor, let the cocaine be,” they may sing, but their on stage energy says otherwise; the boys are practically jumping off the stage and through speakers from the word get. “Shout Mountain Music” doesn’t take a breath before OCMS is into a full on bluegrass stomp with fiddle breaks and four part harmonies. “Take Em Away” eases off the pedal just enough to let OCMS bounce your worries down a dirty country road.
“Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” brings the grit and humor in equal measures as the band leans into a broken down jug band thump. Drums, harmonica, and Dobro dominate the track as choral vocals tell an amusing tale of love at odds with the Department of Corrections. “C.C. Rider” featuring Lee Oskar on harmonica takes this traditional back to its yodeling cowboy roots complete with a whistle break moving somewhere between the mood of a wide open prairie and dark saloon depending on the verse. A roll licking version of “Sixteen Tons” follows with a vocal that plays up the absurdity of the situation instead of the despair; no coal miner has ever been happier to owe his “soul to the company store.”
“Methamphetamine” finds the band pushing into indie rock territory propelled by a pulsing full drum kit and a less traditional progression. Fiddle and pedal steel trade licks like dueling guitars and harken to southern rock’s highest of high points. “It’s gonna rock you till you’re down on your knees…it’s gonna rock you like a hurricane,” OCMS sings about the trap of addiction, but could just as easily be singing about themselves and Live At The Ryman. Margo Price’s presence on “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” adds just the amount of spunk needed to kick this already lively affair over the top on this classic country duet. Here’s to hoping they continue to “get together any time they can.” OCMS’s most well-known, “Wagon Wheel”, follows with the expected good-time feel and requisite audience excitement.
This collection closes with a clap along, sing along midnight revival worthy take on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” featuring some particularly hot guitar work from Molly Tuttle. If you have never happened onto Old Crow Medicine Show, then Live At The Ryman is a great entry point to the OCMS world. If you’re already a fan, then the band’s first live record is clearly a must for your collection. Take a little trip to Nashville and the Ryman with Old Crow Medicine Show’s Live At The Ryman.
Review by H.R.Gertner