Grammy Award-winning old time string band Old Crow Medicine Show achieved one of the highlights of their career with their last album, 2018’s ‘Volunteer’. Their new record, ‘Paint This Town’, is a worthy successor, a collection of raucous, celebratory, fun tunes that also manage to address serious, timely issues. Making music people can enjoy and dance too is hard enough, as is making music that does an admirable job of sincerely engaging with social issues. Accomplishing both these tasks on the same album, often within a single song, is a feat worth noticing, and OCMS have done it here.
This is not a new development for this band. While their style is distinctively rooted in pre-war, pre-bluegrass – they’re old-time, as they would point out, not bluegrass – music, their influences are diverse. This is a band that is heavily influenced by figures like Bob Dylan, having done a track-by-track cover of ‘Blonde on Blonde’. While their sound may be attached to a particular time, their lyrical style is more diverse and far-reaching, and there’s been a social consciousness present throughout their work.
OCMS may base their sound in that old-time style, but they’re not afraid to depart from it when it suits the song. ‘Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise’ features a boogying, roots-rock piano part, and this expansion of the sound really makes the track a lot more fun. ‘Paint This Town’ isn’t just a historical museum piece; it’s living, modern, vital music, a merger of the band’s classic string band influences and some traditional rock & roll.
If you tuned into to any of OCMS frontman Ketch Secor’s Hartland Hootenanny livestreams, you may be familiar with his rather offbeat, even somewhat weird persona. When it comes to writing songs though, Ketch plays it straight, though, and doesn’t engage in any of the silliness he brings to that stage and screen persona. Many of the standout tracks on this album deal with racial issues and the legacy of slavery in the band’s native southern states. ‘New Mississippi Flag’, deals with the state’s decision to change its flag, which contained Confederate symbols, to a new, different design that’s more inclusive. ‘DeFord Rides Again’ is a tribute to early Grand Ole Opry star Deford Bailey, a Black man whose legacy was minimized for a long time, and ‘John Brown’s Dream’ looks at the man who led the abolitionist raid on Harper’s Ferry, in what is now West Virginia, and was executed by the state for his offense. These three songs are well-placed together in sequence on the album.
Ketch and his bandmates are southerners with strong progressive views, and it’s clear they care deeply and have given a lot of thought to these issues. The Southern flavor of this album is unmistakable, even in the title of songs like ‘Honey Chile’ and ‘Hillbilly Boy’. While racial issues are one central theme, environmental degradation is addressed, too, on ‘Used To Be A Mountain’. ‘Painkiller’ is all about the opioid crisis, which has ravaged rural communities in the South.
As heavy as some of the topics in this album are, ‘Paint This Town’ never feels the least bit oppressive. This album is a good time, and it’ll have you have you bopping your head and toes.
Track list: 1. Paint This Town 2. Bombs Away 3. Gloryland 4. Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise 5. Honey Chile 6. Reasons to Run 7. Painkiller 8. Used to be a Mountain 9. DeFord Rides Again 10. New Mississippi Flag 11. John Brown’s Dream 12. Hillbilly Boy Record label: ATO Records LLC Release date: 22nd April 2022 Buy ‘Paint This Town’ now