If ever there was an act best served live, it’s Old Crow Medicine Show. This Harrisonburg, VA six-piece which mixes bluegrass, alt.country and various other Americana stiles together, is fully in its element at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, a venue many call ‘the mother church’ of country music.
Old Crow Medicine Show music play these eleven songs with plenty of enthusiasm. The group’s best-known song is “Wagon Wheel,” a Bob Dylan composition front man Ketch Secor helped embellish, which was later transformed into a hit song for country singer Darius Rucker. This performance kicks off with a propulsive acoustic guitar rhythm, before honky tonk piano, steel guitar and fiddle jump into its inviting mix. “It always sounds a lot sweeter at the Ryman Auditorium!” Secor shouts before singing it. The song includes an unaccompanied audience sing-along near the end that nearly overpowers the group. It gives the impression these attendees just couldn’t wait to sing one of their favorite songs, with one of their favorite bands.
Sadly, many of the acts that now grace this famous stage don’t bear much resemblance to the legendary artists that made if famous. Thankfully, though, Old Crow Medicine Show loves to play the kind of traditional music their forefathers would both approve of and enjoy. So, when Old Crow Medicine Show close this satisfying concert with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” which is to country music what “Amazing Grace” is to evangelical Christianity, these players sound like worthy carriers of the country music torch.
Country music upstart Margo Price joins the band for a cover of “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” a 1973 hit for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. No doubt, Twitty and Lynn sang this sexy number a time or two on this very stage. Nobody has ever sung country music with more natural spunk than Lynn, but Price gives her take on it an enthusiastic run-through. Both Price and Old Crow Medicine Show sincerely love this old song, and it shows. The band also covers Tennessee Ernie Ford’s workingman blues, “Sixteen Tons.” It’s a scrappy take on this old company man complaint and differs from the original due to its added spicy harmonica fills throughout.
While Old Crow Medicine Show’s setlist pays proper respect to country music traditions, the act gets downright horny while performing the newer “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.” This rollicking, banjo-driven raver touches upon two of country music’s favorite subjects: prison and making whoopie. When the convict character singing it announces, “Come on, we’re unshackled tonight/I got a little time off for good behavior,” it’s abundantly clear he’s right and ready to get right down to bedroom business.
An Old Crow Medicine Show at the Ryman Auditorium makes for the perfect artist/venue fit, and this concert recording offers definitive proof. While the group may appear like a fish out of water in, say, Los Angeles or New York City, the act is decidedly at home with family among this Nashville audience. The best live albums always make listeners jealous. They make you say, ‘Damn, I wish I could have been there to see that!’ If you haven’t yet experienced an Old Crow Medicine Show concert, listening to this album might just cause you to cuss at your stereo. If nothing else, it will hold you over until the next time Old Crow Medicine Show arrives in your town.