Old Crowe pursues the mainstream

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First Posted: 7/16/2014

This year finds Old Crow Medicine Show courting mainstream approval with their fifth studio album, “Remedy.” Opening with their trademark hillbilly badinage on the one-two punch of “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” and the frenetic “8 Dogs 8 Banjos,” the wine, whiskey, women and guns of earlier releases remain, but more so as articles of foible rather than revelatory ingredients as on the twangy “Firewater,” a cautionary tale of alcoholism.

The centerpiece of “Remedy” is the album’s first single, “Sweet Amarillo.” At the urging and direction of Bob Dylan, Old Crow Medicine Show were given a song fragment from 1973’s “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” session that also produced “Momma, Rock Me.” Under the Crows, the song is a slow Texas waltz sung by Ketch Secor. Filled out with Secor’s fiddle and the band’s vocal harmonies, “Sweet Amarillo” is ready-made for radio play. Only casually testing the country waters on “Remedy,” “Firewater” and the trope-filled patriotic tale, “Dearly Departed Friend,” with its chorus of “Twenty-one guns for 21 years/An American flag’s in the wind/Standing by the grave of a dearly departed friend,” are the album’s only country-tinged songs.

As a whole, “Remedy” errs on the side of bluegrass. Celebrating their own history, “Doc’s Day” pays homage to the band’s beginning and its benefactor, Doc Watson: “If you want to rock listen to Doc/If you want the girls you better pick like Merle/’Cause them high country blues still blow all the women away.” Perhaps playing it too cautious, Old Crow Medicine Show’s brand of bluegrass is largely tempered, making songs like the whooping “Tennessee Bound,” cutesy hobo tale “Sweet Home” and the square dance call of “Brave Boys” and its “hey ho” chant palatable to a more centrist audience. Somewhat bloated at 13 songs, “Remedy” contains a few toss-offs. The too obvious future live staple “Sh*t Creek” borrows and doubles up Simon and Garfunkel’s wordless chorus from “The Boxer.” More a fragment of an idea than a song, the lonesome album closer “The Warden” can only serve as a philosophical counterpoint to opener “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.”

– Eric Risch, AP writer