On Carry Me Back, Old Crow Medicine Show rediscovers the mojo they lost on 2008’s dour, self-serious Tennessee Pusher. It’s not that OCMS can’t pull off something weighty (the deeply humanist “I Hear Them All” from 2006’s Big Iron World remains one of their very best singles), but they’re at their best when they chase their bigger ideas with a shot of piss and vinegar. That Carry Me Back includes some of the band’s most riotous performances and their most fully developed, empathetic narratives makes the album a substantial rebound for the band.
Though there’s certainly an element of shtick to what OCMS does, there’s also a palpable sense of empathy that runs through Carry Me Back, making the album more than an exercise in empty posturing. That the band develops their songs of real duress so fully also makes the escapism of their more ribald cuts like “Steppin’ Out” and “Country Gal” seem all the more significant. The band’s spirited, breakneck-paced performances certainly enliven even the bleak tales of “Carry Me Back to Virginia” and “Bootlegger’s Boy,” but “Country Gal” and “Sewanee Mountain Catfight” find OCMS at their most tawdry and rambunctious. The narrators of the songs on the album may be socially and politically disenfranchised, but that doesn’t stop them from having a good time. — Slant