OCMS: “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde” and Coming to Terms with “Carry Me Back”

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source: amazon.com

After Old Crow Medicine Show’s triumphant Carry Me Back and the hey-that’s-damn-catchy Remedy (both with ATO Records), I have paced in anticipation, I have salivated, I have hoped and dreamed of the next Old Crow release. And, lo! It cometh!

On April 28, 2017, Old Crow released their first record with Columbia Nashville, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. I had hoped to write a full review of the new album but what’s the point? 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is a live, bluegrass-ish, track-for-track cover of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde. The zeitgeist of Dylan-cred has haunted Old Crow tracks from “Wagon Wheel” to “Sweet Amarillo.” Old Crow’s frontman, Ketch Secor, even shares co-authoring credits with Dylan for “Wagon Wheel,” making it less of a cover and more like a collaboration with a 25-year gap between writings and recordings. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is not “Wagon Wheel” but a forgettable tribute album at best. Do you know what’s more fun than listening to Old Crow’s 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde? Listening to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Old Crow really dialed-it-in on this one. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is as interesting as Faith Hill covering “Piece of My Heart” or (dare I say?) Darius Rucker covering “Wagon Wheel.”

Instead, carry me back to 2012 and Old Crow’s Carry Me Back

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2… 3… Haints: Revisiting Ghost Dance 10 Years Gone (Album Review)

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thepinehillhaints.bandcamp.com

To say that the Pine Hill Haints are the greatest artists to ever come out of Alabama would be unfair in that it limits the Haints to Alabama.  Their vision can, at times, be hard to swallow. Not quite familiar and not quite foreign, the Haints tap elements of bluegrass, classic and alt country, honky tonk, rockabilly, American and Irish folk, calypso, punk, and grunge. They play in Genre Purgatory. To describe their sound, the Haints themselves have coined the phrase “Alabama Ghost Music” but such a label suggests that there exists some subculture, some ghost-music scene, in the Yellowhammer State. Really, Alabama Ghost Music is a genre of one, the Pine Hill Haints — or maybe a genre of five if you include Rise Up Howlin Werewolf, the Natchez Shakers, the Wednesdays, and Counter Clockwise (though all these bands are overshadowed by and even share musicians with the Haints).

On stage, I’ve heard guitarist/lead-singer Jamie Barrier say that they play “country music,” “sittin’ music,” “dancin’ music.” Their various roots-music influences are easy to hear. I did not tune-in to the grunge flair until Jamie started strumming the chords to Nirvana’s “About A Girl” (“I need an easy friend…”) during a soundcheck before a show in Mobile. I caught myself singing along and forever after listened to the Haints in a whole new way. Closer to the truth, Jamie has also called it “dead music.” The Haints sing the ghosts of Alabama, of the southern condition. Ghost Dance is their masterpiece. 

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Mile Twelve’s “Mile Twelve” Debut: Bluegrass Album Review

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Source: MileTwelve.Bandcamp.com

Boston-based, string band Mile Twelve recently graced the  Sertoma Amphitheatre in Cary, NC’s Bond Metro Park for their first show stateside after a three-week tour in Ireland. “We thought that maybe you had never heard bluegrass in North Carolina,” guitarist Evan Murphy quipped of their Massachusetts roots. “So, we thought we’d come down here and play some for you.”

Mile Twelve’s set is mostly no-bullshit bluegrass that dabbles in classic country and progressive acoustic, giving their act depth without giving-in to gimmick (no cutesy bluegrass covers of Britney Spears here).  The word “fresh” follows Mile Twelve and their self-titled debut album though “green” or “blossoming” may prove more apt. What surprises listeners (and what I think all that talk of “fresh” is getting at) is that this young string band is truly bluegrass–not another Mumford/Trampled-by-Turtles (acoustic rock + mandolin) imposter–and that much is refreshing.

Steady, freight-train rhythms and tight, harmonic vocals define the bookend tracks “Heartbroken” and “Our Last Goodbye.” “Rooftop Graveyard” tells of a Manhattan home that is decidedly not the Dixieland of which so many of their contemporaries and predecessors sing. Mile Twelve’s sound seems as at home in the bustle of a city street as it is among a lazy breeze through a piney wood.

New Zealand-born banjoist BB Bowness’s bluesy runs in “Ain’t Coming Back” show flashes of budding brilliance in “33 Good Years.” Murphy calls Bowness “possibly the greatest bluegrass banjo player to ever come out of New Zealand.” I’m not well-versed in New Zealand’s banjoists but Bowness certainly holds her own on stage and in studio.

The real gem of the album is “Out of Me.” A waltz sung by smoky-voiced bassist Nate Sabat, “Out of Me” culminates in a soul-tugging, bow duet between Sabat’s bass and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes’s weeping fiddle. Here, especially, Mile Twelve’s promise shines. They know music. They’re not guessing at which notes might-could go where. They are real, long-haul musicians just figuring each other and themselves out. I can hear it coming together, ripening. For now, it all sounds so “fresh.”

So, give the kids a listen and, maybe, spot them an encouraging buck or two. You can stream Mile Twelve’s debut album for free at MileTwelveBluegrass.com. The album is also available for digital download on Amazon.com.