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Old Crow Medicine Show

Back in the day, George Jones had a hit single called "Ragged but Right," about a ne'er-do-well who managed to win the hearts of everyone he met. George could've been singing about the boys in the Old Crow Medicine Show, undoubtedly the finest old-time/bluegrass/ragtime/alt.country band in the land.

OCMS, like the New Lost City Ramblers before it, got together in NYC and takes much of its material from early country music recordings cut in the '20s and '30s. But these guys don't try to reproduce the sound of old-time folk music. Instead, they supercharge it with post-punk energy and irreverent humor, while still managing to stay true to the down-home, drinking-till-you-fall-off-the-front-porch ethos of pre-Nashville country music. Launching into a tune like "Tell It to Me" (a.k.a. "Cocaine Blues") or "Tear It Down" (a ragtime-tinged bit of country blues), the Show plays so hard, you almost expect its instruments to disintegrate. Though the band is as tight as any bluegrass outfit you'd care to name, there's a sloppy power to its music that always sounds as if it's about to spin wildly out of control.

The album also contains a couple of first-rate songwriters. Critter Fuqua's bluegrass ballad "Big Time in the Jungle" tells the tale of a Vietnam draftee that sounds like an up-to-the-minute protest song considering the current situation in Iraq, while Ketch Se-cor's "Hard to Tell" is an old-time, knuckle-busting hoedown with a lightning-fast, tongue-twisting lyric. Meanwhile, the production by David Rawlings (Gillian Welch's partner) captures the band's manic spirit without any obvious studio trickeration, proving once again the timeless appeal of real folk music.

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J. Poet

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