After covering an iconic album by Bob Dylan in its entirety, that being the famously influential Blonde On Blonde no less, how is a band best advised as far as making its next move? That was the inevitable question Old Crow Medicine Show was forced to consider following the accolades that tribute received. After all, one of the main objectives at that juncture had to be to reestablish their own identity, free of anyone else’s shadow, including the biggest of all, that of Mr. Dylan. How then to make an album that might earn equal acclaim, and reaffirm their identity and ingenuity all at the same time?
While some outfits might opt to broaden their base and alter their approach, Old Crow Medicine took the opposite option, choosing instead to go back to basics. Consequently, Volunteer is an album that projects its rustic references, all etched with nostalgia and songs that offer reasons for return to the pleasures of front porch existence. “Child of the Mississippi,” “Dixie Avenue” and “A World Away” celebrate the joys of home and the hearth, and the sheer celebration that comes with knowing there’s a place where one belongs.
Not surprisingly then, bluegrass is the bond that ties it all together, from the frenzied wallop of “Elzick’s Farewell” and “Flicker & Shine,” to the Band-like ramble of “Old Hickory” and the traditional trappings of the jaunty, good time “The Good Stuff.” Flush with reflection and repast, this rootsy set of songs offers another variety of homage, this time to the music that inspired them early on and launched them on their trek to stardom.
Ultimately, it’s a credit to the band’s honesty and humility that even though they now find themselves on a higher plateau, they haven’t abandoned their rugged credo. One of their finest collective efforts so far—no small claim in itself—Volunteer clearly serves its purpose.