Friday, September 22, 2006 ... 1:07 PM

Old Crow and the new Machine

David Rawlings is touring Nebraska right now, backed by Gillian Welch. They bill themselves as The David Dave Rawlings Machine, playing unlikely covers at small venues on short notice. As far as I can tell, the act premiered last month at the Newport Folk Festival, and picked up steam when, driving home from Rhode Island, the duo made an impromptu stop in Charlottesville, VA.

By descriptions at Whiskey Girl, it sounds not dissimilar to the loose rocknroll shows Dave & Gil give from time to time as the Esquires, joined apparently by whatever friends are game that night -- including at times Buddy Miller and Ryan Adams. I've got a boot of one of the Esquires shows, and it sounds ... well, very drunk, frankly. But I've also heard these two back Buddy Miller on early rocknroll tunes -- Gillian on electric bass and Dave strangling a Strat -- and it burned like kerosene. They ought to bust out the electricity more often. Their talents so transcend the brother-act-steeped acoustic sets that we all love, I'm never disappointed to hear the way the leaves quake when they branch out.

There's a David Dave Rawlings Machine page at myspace, but you're on your own there. That place creeps me out. Not only because of the meat market vibe, but because it disenchants to see that my folk country rock n blues music heroes spend as much time plopped on their asses in front of a Dell LCD as cubicle slaves like you and I do. It's like the Vatican II; myspace demystifies the religion.

Meanwhile, I've been listening to the new Rawlings-produced CD by Old Crow Medicine Show, Big Iron World. It plays to me as a somehow unironic po-mo tour of country musics past. I hear jug band stomp in "Cocaine Habit," a dose of hokum on the trainride/sexride romp "New Virginia Creeper", and the talkie honky-tonk of "Let It Alone" reminds me of the Foley-Tubb duets of the 50s.

Rawlings unfolds his flat-picking beneath the melancholy "My Good Gal" and, predictably, his preternatural conversance with rhythm and harmony lights fathoms beneath what otherwise might come across as "Oh, Another Murder Ballad." As a producer on the slower tunes, he draws what feels like old bruises to the skin of this party band. Hot fiddle tunes, which drive the Crows' live act, figure sparsely here. Which suits me fine; I like when these guys get moody. Gillian Welch brushes a snare here and there, and even taps on a trap kit for the very Harvest-esque "Don't Ride That Horse". Undertoes stir throughout, even on the upbeat tunes, suggesting without flaunting the kind of spiritual desolation that leads folks to religion or social revolution.

It's not the best CD I've heard this year, but as a followup to the rowdyish (and pretty terrific) O.C.M.S., it shows maturity and startling diversity.



I seriously think that Old Crow is one of the best old-time bands of all time (the most intense and heartfelt live performances I've ever seen!), and Big Iron World is a very welcome change from OCMS, which I though was kind of over-produced and slick for my tastes (to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Gillian Welch and was kind of worried that their work with the band would ruin the sound that I loved so much). Eutaw is still my favorite album of theirs, but Big Iron World is definitely worth the time.

Thanks for the link on the site - I'm really glad to see you writing again! I think I've literally read through all of the archives, so I'm really excited to see new material.


By Blogger muse: nashville, at 9/24/2006 2:01 PM  

Hey Celine, thanks for linking me first. Seeing all the goings-on discussed on your blog makes me miss Nashville. Though when I lived there I was too poor to go much of anywhere.

Slick and overproduced, you think really? I haven't heard any recordings before OCMS, but the Dave-produced CDs sound pretty rugged around the edges to me. It's hi-fi for sure, but vintage hi-fi. The subdued high frequencies and tubey midrange give it a sort of woody overall quality. You can often hear the microphone itself responding to Ketch's voice specifically, which is a raw sort of sound that's filtered of typical label-budget recordings. The sound is less bright and crystalline, I guess, than what I think of as slick studio output. Compare with, say, Union Station.

I've seen Old Crow a few times, and they are pretty feral onstage, but I like that they hold back some fire on the albums so that the energy still smacks you like a hurricane when you hear them up close. And, really, all those breakneck fiddle tunes bleed together for me in the same way that most punk music does. I like the tenderer melodic side that Dave fosters in the studio. The intricate arrangements I think highlight the guys' individual talents more than their fireball live approach is capable of.

By Blogger B. Earnest, at 9/25/2006 1:04 PM  

I got into OCMS with Eutaw, the album before OCMS. In my opinion, Eutaw has a much more raw feel to it, and as I went further back into their catalog and began to explore some of their live recordings, that's just the sound I became obsessed with. It's more than the general dislike of the sound on OCMS, I also don't like the original songs on there. I love the way they do traditional stuff, but the original things that they've written have yet to blow me away (with the exception of Wagon Wheel, which I guess is only kind of an original song). I think I just need that fiery energy all the time from them. If that makes sense. I think that Big Iron World does a better job than OCMS of capturing that vintage feel that you spoke of, and yes, I would definitely not go so far to say that it certainly doesn't go so far as the oil slick that is Alison Krauss and Union Station. I love them, all around, really! Some of their earlier albums just resonate more with me than OCMS.

By Blogger muse: nashville, at 9/29/2006 2:49 PM  

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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


Flop Eared Mule
The Celestial Monochord
Dig and Be Dug in Return
Modern Acoustic Magazine / Blog
The Old, Weird America
Honey, Where You Been So Long?

The Greensboro Review
Mixed Animal
Night Train
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Staccato Fiction
PANK Magazine

Cat and Girl
Film Freak Central