Old Crow Medicine Show

Back in the day George Jones had a hit single, "Ragged But Right," about a ne'er-do-well who managed to win the hearts of everyone he met. He could have been singing about the boys in the Old Crow Medicine Show, undoubtedly the finest bluegrass/ragtime/altcountry band in the land. OCMS, like the New Lost City Ramblers before it, formed in N.Y.C. and takes much of its material from early country recordings cut in the Twenties and Thirties, but unlike NLCR it doesn't try to reproduce the sound of old-time folk music. The band supercharges its songs with postpunk energy and irreverent humor, but still manages to stay true to a down-home, drinking-till-you-fall-off-the-front-porch ethos.

When OCMS launches into a tune from its self-titled debut such as "Tell It to Me" or "Tear It Down," the latter a ragtime-tinged bit of country blues, it plays so hard you almost expect its instruments to disintegrate. Critter Fuqua's ballad "Big Time in the Jungle" tells the tale of a Vietnam draftee that parallels the current situation in Iraq, while Ketch Secor's "Hard to Tell" is a knuckle-busting hoedown with a lightning-fast, tongue-twisting lyric. The band is as tight as any bluegrass outfit you can name, but it has a sloppy power that makes its performances sound as if they are about to spin wildly out of control. The production by David Rawlings, Gillian Welsh's partner, captures this manic spirit without any obvious studio trickeration, proving once again the timeless appeal of real folk music.

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J. Poet