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Concert Reviews:
Old Crow Medicine Show keeps the circle unbroken, and unbowed, at Sound Board
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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DETROIT -- If Old Crow Medicine Show's concert on Friday night, Aug. 9, at Sound Board in the MotorCity Casino Hotel is not on the list of the year's best in five months, it will be a profound surprise.



The Americana troupe comes in to any gig as one of the best live bands going, period. But on Friday some fresh faces -- notably Charlie Worsham, who also opened the night with a moving half-hour solo acoustic set -- elevated that status even further, breathing string band fire through and hour and 50 minutes that made the small but exuberant turn-out at the theater look like the smartest music fans in the metro area.



The smoothly gregarious Worsham, a solo artist in his own right who's also playing guitar for Vince Gill these days, gave live-wire frontman Ketch Secor a nice new foil to work with. The two traded both instrumental and verbal riffs throughout the night, playing off each other on song introductions and occasionally trading lead vocals. And Worsham songs such as "Southern By the Grace of God" and the irreverent "Friday night spiritual" "I Hope I'm Stoned When Jesus Takes Me Home" -- performed at the front of the stage with the musicians around a single microphone -- were welcome and appropriate additions to the Old Crow repertoire.







Secor was, of course, still the main man of the Medicine Show, a kind of bluegrass Peter Wolf in his shades and shiny jacket and frenetic demeanor. Wielding his fiddle bow like a conductor's baton, he lead the group into the show with a galloping medley of "Ol' Hairy Mole," "Make a Ruckus" and "Tear It Down" and was in constant, bouncing motion throughout the night. He also revealed a thorough knowledge of all things Michigan (and southern Ontario), calling it "the most southern of the northern states" as he saluted the fashion habits of "Ypsilanti girls" and the Detroit Tigers of the 80s, name-checking stars such as Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker and Chet Lemon. And he spoke about the state's geography like a guy who spent the bus ride (or flight) in studying his almanac.



Secor and Worsham also rolled through a list of Detroit musicians at the start of the encore, talking about their search for a "special" song before settling into Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time" -- lyrics taped on sheets on the stage floor -- in which Cash sang about his days building cars in Pontiac.



And, as always, Secor and his bandmates amazed with just sheer musicianship. Each of the six Old Crows -- with a crew tech seamlessly subbing for the missing Critter Fuqua -- played at least four instruments throughout the night, trading an arsenal of fiddles, banjos, mandolins and acoustic guitars with spread-sheet precision. Secor added harmonica to his mix, while Joe Andrews worked the pedal steel and Cory Younts played keyboards and, during "Down Home Girl," a harmonium.



Worsham, meanwhile, added electric guitar licks to "Dixie Avenue" and a rollicking "Methamphetamine."



You could drop a needle anywhere in the 26-song set and find a musical highlight, whether it was the dependable "Alabama High Test" or the winking "Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer." A couple verses of "This Land is Your Land" added to the social commentary of "I Hear Them All," and the instrumental "Whiskey Before Breakfast" provided a spirited lead-in to "Hard to Tell." And, yes, Old Crow played "Wagon Wheel," crowd-pleasing as always but, in Friday's context, just part of a greater whole.



The group wrapped things up, as usual, with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?," a perfect cap on a night of celebrating what Secor called "good, bona fide, certified country music" -- and a band that plays it better than most, and maybe all, others.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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