Old Crow Medicine Show – Paint This Town (ATO Records)

Old Crow Medicine Show – Paint This Town (ATO Records)

Paint This Town is Old Crow Medicine Show’s first album for four years and marks something of a return to form for one of the most distinctive bands of the last two decades.

The pace is frantic, a cacophony of banjos, strings, drums and country vocals that contain a hint of punkish snarl when the lyrical content calls for it. And on Paint This Town there are certain moments and subjects when it is called for. Which is a significant part of the band’s appeal in general – the juxtaposition between the good-timey swing of the music and the powerful, sometimes political nature of the song writing. Nashville isn’t the town it used to be and you can now expect a political conscience from a number of the bands and artists operating out of the cradle of country music today.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s good time music to be had here and it’s great. ‘Bombs Away’ might be about a failed relationship and divorce but it’s fun, fairly light-hearted and trundles along at a fair old bluegrass lick! Title track ‘Paint This Town’ also sets the pace as the album opener but it doesn’t set the tone as such. As ever with Old Crown Medicine Show that revival sound still grabs you in all the right places and kicks like a mule, but there’s more at play here and in some ways, there’s more at stake.

‘Gloryland’ begins with the lyrics “Woke up in a fever, to a world gone wrong” and suddenly there’s a sense that you’ve been drawn in by this classic sound but now that you’re here the band has something to say, and you will listen. Bassist Morgan Jahnig sums it up nicely when he says “At the end of the day, we’re still just trying to stop you on the street and get you to put a dollar in the guitar case. Then once we’ve got your attention, we’re gonna tell you about things like the opioid epidemic and the Confederate flag and what’s happening with the environment—but we’re gonna do it with a song and dance.” It’s an accurate description and it’s an approach that works.

‘Painkiller’ focuses on the hardship of addiction, a reminder of the opiate crisis devastating American towns and cities. ‘New Mississippi Flag’ is a slower track, containing the best vocal delivery on the record. At a time of the BLM movement and the spectre of Trumpism and white supremacism still hanging over the American political landscape, there is a significant weight to a ballad about the history of the state of Mississippi, the struggles and demons contained within that history and those “who died on the road to change“. It’s a poignant moment of reflection, and a track that takes skill to pull off without sounding trite or clichéd.

Race, environmental destruction, political history; love, beer and a good time. It’s all there somewhere on Paint This Town, the good and the bad, jumbled and intermingling just like in life. Try and make sense of it all if you like, or just throw a few drinks inside you and find somebody to dance with. This is a record that you can engage with on different levels, full of characters chancing their arm in modern America, for good or ill. It’s clever, at times it’s powerful and like all Old Crow Medicine Show records, it’s a bit of a ride. Nobody does old-time revival alt-country quite like this band, and Paint this Town is a timely reminder of that.

Paint This Town is released on 22nd April through ATO Records.

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