Folk country string band Old Crow Medicine Show have been making music for 25 years. The group has been nominated and won many awards over the years, including Grammys and those given out by the Country Music Association, Country Music Television, and the Americana Music Association. Old Crow Medicine Show were formally inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2013 and have continued touring and recording since.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s latest album, Jubilee, is a strange one, which means it is a typical Old Crow Medicine Show affair. The songs’ contents range from goofy to serious, and the musicianship can best be described as ragged but right. There’s an inconsistency at the heart of its contents that honors the serious amateur over the dilettante and the virtuoso. The subjects range from voodoo and the wolfman to romantic love and peace on Earth. In other words, there’s a purposeful incoherency to Jubilee. The songs shift freely from one topic to the next, and one never knows how one is to respond to the individual tracks.
So when the singer croons that he has found true love that makes him so happy his “tongue can touch the ceiling” in the song’s first verse, one can guess something will go wrong. But it’s not what one would expect either in a good way (i.e., marriage, children) or in a bad manner (i.e., a tragedy, cheatin’), but in an odd way. Now the narrator has found his soul mate, he wants to “Keel Over and Die”. “Let me fall in love and holler from the grave,” he robustly sings to his honey babe. The stringed instruments and harmonica play loud and fast in accompaniment.
Mavis Staples joins Old Crow Medicine Show on one track, the gospel-inflected “One Drop”, that rejoices in the fact that it only takes a little effort to be kind to each other and make the world a better place. If that were only true, alas, as the spirit animating the sentiment is an important one to remember. However, the song’s title recalls America’s racist past when if a person had one drop of black blood (or had even one ancestor who was a Negro), that person would be legally considered black and inferior. This song may praise a different situation, but its central metaphor confusedly recalls a negative past.
“Belle Meade Cockfight” features Sierra Ferrell duetting on the tale of a legendary battle of chickens. The music speeds up as the combat continues—and love may be growing between the two who entered their birds—but the music burns itself out before the fight is finished. It’s the fight itself, the rural entertainment, that matters most. Winners and losers are secondary to the action itself.
There’s something hokey about Jubilee; whether one enjoys it depends on one’s predisposition to the genre. Old Crow Medicine Show aren’t trying to be perfect or professional—at least on the surface. The music often seems to veer off the edge of tunefulness and break down into chaos. But it never does. After 25 years, Old Crow Medicine Show celebrate their silver jubilee by putting out a record and touring. They’ve changed by never really changing their old-timey style and showing that keeping one’s roots exposed in the musical world can be a smart decision.