Opening with a rip roaring rendition of "Carry Me Back" the title track of their full-length release last year, Old Crow Medicine Show brought the house down for a sold-out show at the El Rey on Wednesday. The song's title and lyrics reference a tune from an older tradition "Carry Me Back To Old Virginia", which has roots dating back to the 1800s, and was popularized by many famous musicians including Jerry Lee Lewis and Louis Armstrong. These are the musical customs that inspire Old Crow Medicine Show, who reinterpret the sounds of folk long gone to speak to a new generation. In the digital era, Old Crow Medicine Show was discovered in a decidedly unmediated way. Doc Watson heard them busking on the corner where he used to play in Boone, North Carolina, and immediately asked the band to play his music festival. This band doesn't just talk the talk. They walk the walk.
Keeping true to folk traditions, frontman Ketch Secor regaled the audience with local tall tales while the band tuned. He went so far as to tell a story about driving down the Miracle Mile with a beautiful black haired Chicano girl...named Caroline, and as soon as he said her name, and the crowd laughed, the band launched into a song of the same name. The mood was thoroughly uproarious. Who would have known that Angelenos had such an appetite for old timey country music? During the foot-stomping "Mississippi Saturday Night", a single off the latest album, Secor and Chance McCoy wheeled off the original arrangement for a little double fiddle duel. Another song featured a mouth-blistering harmonica solo. If that sounds like something that would suit you, then you would have also appreciated Gill Landry's entire rack of resonator guitars, the upright bass solo, an audience singalong of "This Land Is Your Land", and the mason jar chandeliers that decorated the stage.
Just as the big old string bands of yesteryear would take turns leading songs or introducing members, the six guys that make up OCMS all had at least one chance to bring the crowd to a thunderous applause. This diversity made for a fantastically dynamic show that tackled everything from political songs that ended in a cry to bring the troops home to a George Jones tribute to a special mariachi inspired song complete with accordion to country cover of "American Girl". All that might sound a little crazy, but the authentic, warm, jovial personality and swagger of OCMS smooths everything out into the best time you could ever have on a Wednesday night.
I mostly write positive reviews on here, because I'm too busy for extra negativity. However, I don't always write over-the-ever-loving-glowing-moon reviews. This is a rare exception, because OCMS's live show not only put the biggest smile on my face and left my hands sore from clapping along, but it also pulled my heart strings. Their songs mention some of my favorite places in the world, like the Blue Ridge Mountains, the New River, the Cumberland Gap, Shenandoah, and the roads of North Carolina wreathed in dogwoods and pines. Not only do they sing about them, they capture the soul of soft blue-green mountains that roll on forever wreathed in mist. Several days later, and OCMS's harmonious lyrics are still leaving me homesick for the East coast.