Music

Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

Where many other groups feel the need to approach traditional material with an eye on preserving it, Old Crow Medicine Show intend to make it live and breathe.


Old Crow Medicine Show

Big Iron World

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2006-08-29
UK Release Date: 2006-08-28
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Much of the Americana scene should be criticized for its over-seriousness, its implicit insistence that the only strand of American song worth perpetuating is that of the deathly grim ballad. How easily these mortality-obsessed musicians forget about other types of songs, equally abundant and equally essential to the core of the American musical experience. And how foolish to ignore the reality that faced working musicians 75 or 80 years ago. Even Robert Johnson, Ol' Last-Fair-Deal-Gone-Down-at-the-Crossroads himself, couldn't just play them old devil blues if he expected to have an audience. He had to know the popular songs of the day, too. His music had to explore a range of emotions, a range that seems to have eroded in the mindset of many of today's tradition-based, death-fixated performers.

Do not count Old Crow Medicine Show among the bloodthirsty. In fact, their only concession to that much darker side of traditional song isn't much of a concession at all, as "My Good Gal" seems for all the world like a sad lost-love ballad until the final twist. While Big Iron World, their second record, is full of exceptionally strong instrumental work, the communication between the strings on this track is really something to behold. It's also something of an aberration, in that virtually everyone lays down his usual instrument and picks up a guitar, including producer and occasional songwriting collaborator David Rawlings. Critter Fuqua's slide guitar is especially sweet, and singer Ketch Secor turns in a devastating performance, adding occasional flurries of notes on the harmonica. As the first of many fine originals after the opening trio of covers -- and as a chance to quiet things down after a couple of raucous numbers -- "My Good Gal" occupies a prime spot on the album, and hits every musical, lyrical and emotional high it needs to. It may very well break your heart, but not because it dwells too long on the death of someone else's.

While "My Good Gal" is a tour-de-force of interplay, much of Big Iron World forgoes that kind of subtlety and restraint, alternating between slow grooves and a more bracing attack. The latter is all the more impressive considering the lack of a regular drummer, although Gillian Welch picks up the sticks for some of the midtempo numbers. The sequencing gives the album a very natural pulse, and Old Crow Medicine Show are a band of expert players who are always musically together. And yet the songs don't sound over-rehearsed at all. Instead, they manage to project an off-the-cuff ambience, strengthened no doubt by the vocalists' natural ease with the material. There's not a hint of artifice, no sense that what you're hearing is the posturing of a bunch of city boys.

The leadoff track -- and first single -- is a cover of "Down Home Girl", previously recorded by the likes of Alvin Robinson and the Rolling Stones. It's an inspired pick, a very old-sounding

number that prowls along in an "Ode to Billie Joe"-style swamp rhythm and milks the conflict -- while drawing all the appropriate parallels -- between sex and religion: "Every time you move like that, girl / I got to get down and pray." Hmm, what could that mean? That sly wink-and-grin later turns into all-out raunch on "New Virginia Creeper", a gleeful train-as-phallus metaphor that chugs along with lines like "If you'd like to ride / I'd like to ride you some more", and "Slide me up your ticket, baby / Climb up on my engine." It's "Born to Run" for the hillbilly set!

"Cocaine Habit" (aka "Take a Whiff on Me") gives a shout out to Karl Rove and Elijah Wood, and while in one sense this dates the performance, it's also proof of the wisdom in Old Crow Medicine Show's covers-heavy approach. Where many other groups would feel the need to approach this material with an eye on preserving it, Old Crow Medicine Show intend to make it live and breathe. They don't leave Traditional/Arranged's great hit trapped in the distant past. It also shows how they aren't out to trick anyone into thinking they were transported here from some rickety Appalachian porch. Two birds, one stone, a dash of irreverent humor, and a foot-stomper to boot.

Old Crow Medicine Show have one of the most perfect band names in ages. It conjures up the ghosts of the era from which the band draws inspiration, and strongly hints at a good-time vibe. What's even better is that Old Crow Medicine Show totally live up to the promise of their moniker: Big Iron World is a rollicking treat for the latent moonshiner in us all, and proves once again that this is a band to watch.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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