With “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” Remedy’s dobro-dripping opener, Old Crow Medicine Show offers a salty, bawdy bit of old-time music basted with tangy strummin’ and blowing. The detail-driven carnality-before-execution tale—with its twist of the hangman offering to trade the prisoner liberty for a night with his howling lady inside—is a brazen savor of the flesh and its respite that swings.
But as lusty as “Conjugal” is, Remedy consorts with far higher content over its 13 tracks. “Mean Enough World,” a Pete Seeger-esque protest/plea, squares off against society’s increasingly selfish indifference and strident divisiveness in the name of invoking a kinder, gentler way.
On the slow-strumming “Dearly Departed Friend,” steel puddling as the beat lags, Ketch Secor’s seriousness flowers. An actual song for returning vets who can’t find peace in dead-end, small-town life, its graveside rumination nails our human condition; the subsequent post-memorial get-together at O’Charleys, where the mom’s boyfriend gets too drunk and says “It shoulda been me” and the notion that Tennessee beat Georgia weighs as prominently as the returned soldier’s suicide. Echoing with haunted truth, like John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” it’s the unseen tragedy of disenfranchisement.
Prine’s musicality is evoked in “Sweet Amarillo,” the band’s second co-write with Bob Dylan. Suggesting a reeling Texas take on “Paradise,” the fiddle-laced near-shanty embraces the perils of loving a cowgirl lost to the rodeo.
Invoking Doc Watson and Merle Travis by name, the jaunty “Doc’s Day” celebrates the euphoria of picking. Gleaming here—on the Celtic stomp “Tennessee Bound,” the gospel “Sweet Home” and the hyper-drive “8 Dogs 8 Banjos”—the resplendent joy that tempered Old Crow’s shows rises.
That playing, though, is only a portion of what draws. The lurching tale of the swollen “O Cumberland River,” the sweeping Appalachian churn of the coal miner’s risk (“Brave Boys”) or the slow-shuffling lament of liquor’s ravages (“Fire Water”) all offer simple but sobering glimpses of well-trod themes usually reduced to cliché instead of flesh-and-blood actuality.
Produced by Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly) and marked by the return of Critter Fuqua, OCMS create palpably chewy roots music that—for all its authenticity and reverence—distills their vibrant spirit. Eschewing Smithsonian properness, Remedy channels youth in all its freewheeling glory.
Even the elegiac “The Warden,” a prayerful vocal harmony-driven ponderance, bristles with the doubts that must plague the jail-keeper. By resolving Remedy with the somber side of jail, OCMS closes the cycle opened with the randy inmate’s “Conjugal” to suggest all things contain both extremes.