The cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World shows the five-member band standing on an empty street, seeming not to notice the camera taking their picture. When the record is opened, there is another picture of five men, but this picture is not of the band, it’s of five railroad workers, presumably circa 1930. The point of the layout of these two pictures is obvious: OCMS and the railroad workers are the same people. If there were a textbook on traditional, working-class, bluegrass songs, Big Iron World would be cited as a modern reference. It’s got all the requirements of the genre: a song referencing the union (“Union Maid”), a raucous song about sex (New Virginia Creeper), a song about shooting your female companion and leaving her in the ground (“My Good Gal”), and at least two songs ending with the word “blues” (“Minglewood Blues”, “James River Blues.”) Because of its close binding with traditional bluegrass songs, Big Iron World makes for a great listen.
“Down Home Girl” starts of the record, and sums up the perspective OCMS is coming from. It’s a three-and a half minute song commenting on a woman who disguises her “down home” characteristics (ex. her breath tastes like pork and beans / she walks like she’s walked through cotton fields) with “uptown” fashions (ex. perfume, high heels). OCMS let their perspective show throughout Big Iron World. Particularly on the wonderfully soulful “God’s Got It,” a standout, regardless of personal beliefs of the role of organized religion in the issues of the “poor man.”
It would be inaccurate to assume from their “down home” outlook, that this record is some sort of red state v. blue state release. OCMS cite Karl Rove as a reference for those who are unsure if cocaine is for them (“Cocaine Habit.”) This isn’t to say that OCMS takes the blue side either: OCMS looks at issues in a humanist way. In “I Hear Them All,” Keith Secor, one of the bands four singers, sings about listening to the struggles of people from all walks of life while the powerful sit there and “whistle Dixie with their money and their power.”
Big Iron World feels like opening a door to a back room in a bar where people don’t come to be seen. As you open the door wide enough to figure out you shouldn’t be in there, you can’t bring yourself to shut it quickly and scurry away. You are captured by five guys in the room, five guys playing songs that aren’t anything new or groundbreaking, but playing them with passion and having the time of their life doing it. It’s impossible to look away.