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Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

Old Crow Medicine Show

Carry Me Back (ATO/MapleMusic Recordings)

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Other than the archaic notions of paying for music or actually listening to full albums, today's music-digging vanguard is obsessive about all things old. Whether it's the retro soul of Sharon Jones, the vintage grease rock of The Black Keys or anything from the dime-a-dozen Neil Young-aping indie hotshots, anything to do with an idealized past is the order of today. So, what with their banjos and Band-esque scruff, Old Crow Medicine Show is ripe for the vineyards of success enjoyed by twangy Americana heroes like Mumford and Sons and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The group’s sixth studio album is an especially Appalachian affair: the thwacking strings, soaring fiddle bow and dum-dum of upright bass rarely relent over original tales of dying, tobacco, getting shot down, being spawned by a bootlegger of questionable character, killing “a man in a feud of whiskey” and Deliverance-esque towns flooded by a dam’s construction. It’s country-folk-bluegrass in varying order, and throughout is a ragged romp of prewar jug band-ery and badassness. Whether the boys have experienced such rural, tough times in their tender years matters little. Fervent listeners can suspend disbelief because they mostly haven't lived ’em either, and that’s partially the point. This is an alternate world, moonshine-soaked and smoke-stanking, of overalls, missing teeth and severed appendages; where a harmonica is not only the saddest damn thing in the world, but also the closest analogy to how you probably feel while sitting on the front porch.

Through only a couple Willie-esque sad tunes (“Ways of Man”), a few Charlie Daniels-feeling barnburners (“Mississippi Saturday Night”) and barrels of timeless Merle Haggard-style shit-kickin', here’s yet another rollicking example: What's old is new again, again.