by Jonathan Keefe Music Rooted & Restless

Old Crow Medicine Show | Live at the Ryman

December 11, 2019

Many were surprised when Old Crow Medicine Show were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, which has, of late, skewed heavily in favor of current commercial hit-makers, regardless of their ties to the genre’s history. And though they’ve only flirted with mainstream success—thanks almost entirely to writing “Wagon Wheel,” as close to a new genre standard as has been written in this century—OCMS made for an excellent addition to the Opry’s roster, as they have long filtered a contemporary point-of-view through a vintage string-band aesthetic. Live at the Ryman proves their reverence for country music’s “Mother Church,” while serving a dual function for the band: It plays as a perfectly-curated “greatest hits” set for OCMS and also captures the raucous energy of their live performances, which has occasionally been lost on their studio recordings.

The band doesn’t shy away from their more ribald material—“Tell It to Me” remains a shit-kicking cautionary tale about the dangers of cocaine abuse, while “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” turns the Ryman stage into the setting for a prison riot—but also turns in a couple of spirited covers of classics. The rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” here, on which OCMS are joined by the criminally underrated Charlie Worsham, is a gospel rave-up for the ages — and of course, “Wagon Wheel” is a full-on singalong. Though they’ve rarely been credited as such, what Live proves is that OCMS remain perhaps the finest country band of their generation, and this set makes an essential addition to their catalogue either for their established fanbase…or for those who only know “Wagon Wheel.”

Published as part of Rooted & Restless  | December 2019