Album Reviews: Big Iron World by Old Crow Medicine ShowFirst of all, you know you're in a pretty cool band when Gillian Welch is your studio drummer -- and such is the case for Old Crow Medicine Show, the crown princes of nu-bluegrass. There may not be another young band that is so able to breathe new life into the dusty back pages of folk and bluegrass, especially while contributing their own reinterpretations and new songs to the canon.
On Big Iron World, their second studio album, they seem cautious of being pigeonholed, and try their hands at some O Brother gospel (the icky and rather boring "God's Got It"), some straightforward acoustic heartache (the surprisingly touching "My Good Gal"), and an adrenaline shot of protest music, most notably Woody Guthrie's fingerprints on "Union Maid." They could have easily settled for being a one-trick pony for at least a few albums, so it's gratifying to listen to them expand their range, even if it's with mixed results. The best song on Big Iron World would probably have been the fourth-best song on their debut; there isn't anything a mile within "Wagon Wheel." That may qualify the new record as a minor sophomore slump, although it maintains plenty of the likeability from its predecessor. David Rawlings certainly seems to be the right fit for the band behind the boards, and Big Iron World is never anything less than lively and crisp.
With that said, Old Crow would have benefited from a couple more wild-pickin' tracks with full-on harmonizing like the boisterous "Fall On My Knees," a B-side from the Down Home Girl single that didn't make the cut. "Cocaine Habit" is too direct a descendent of the debut's "Tell It to Me," right down to the subject matter, although it does contain one of the year's best "Huh?!?" lines: "Now if you don't believe cocaine is good / You ask Karl Rove and Elijah Wood."
Old Crow play their best cards right in the middle of the album, starting with the delicate "My Good Gal." "New Virginia Creeper" nails the fast-playing, easygoing vibe, with a "Chug along, chug along" chorus that Roger Miller would surely approve of. They play "Union Maid" like they just fell off a picket line -- or out of a time machine. Judging by the evidence, that latter option could be a real possibility - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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