“Paint This Town,” Old Crow Medicine Show (ATO Records)
Due to the group’s name, good-timey tempos and comically frantic vocals, Old Crow Medicine Show can be mistaken for a hee-hawing string band not to be taken seriously. All of which makes the Nashville-based group’s new album deceptive in its delights.
“Paint This Town” is indeed a party starter, but there are also powerful songs about racism, drugs, the abolitionist movement, environmental degradation and the Mississippi flag.
Versatile frontman Ketch Secor’s distinctive delivery fits the material, whether his approach is crazed, comedic or conscientious. It turns out Secor can sound a lot like Joe Strummer, and some of the subject matter is Clash-worthy.
“Painkiller” captures the desperation of addiction, and “Used To Be a Mountain” turns angry as it describes an abused landscape. “DeFord Rides Again,” sung by drummer Jerry Pentecost, pays tribute to pioneering but long-forgotten Black country music artist DeFord Bailey.
While the band delivers those tunes at a furious pace, “New Mississippi Flag” is a bold ballad that movingly summarizes the state’s complicated history in three minutes as it recalls “rattling chains” and those “who died on the road to change.”
Old Crow does find time for fun. Secor is delightfully hammy singing about divorce on “Bombs Away,” and the album opens and closes with joyful foot-stompers. This medicine show’s passion and energy are a potent tonic, especially on songs about right and wrong.