Celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band, Old Crow Medicine Show has been riding a bullet the last few years, revived by new ideas and even better songs. The Bluegrass/Roots ensemble recently released Volunteer, an invigorating set of new songs helmed by Dave Cobb, who has quickly become one of Country music’s most in-demand producers (working with Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, for starters). The eclectic, new ingredient here is the blending of electric guitar into their organic high-energy mix.
Before Volunteers, OCMS toured in support of its Dylan tribute album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde, a joyous, rollicking ode to the master songwriter who they owe just a little bit for inspiring the group’s hit single, “Wagon Wheel.” Ketch Secor, OCMS’s leader/songwriter, finished writing the song based on one of Dylan’s castoff, bootleg song scraps from the ’70s, turning it into a much-covered anthem and barroom staple.
Sturgill Simpson’s third record, the self-produced A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which won the Grammy for Best Country Record of 2016, quickly proved his previous classic album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was no fluke. On A Sailor’s Guide, the Kentucky-born guitar ace added bracing horns and twisted covers, including a rollicking take on Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Between his three-album hot streak and a willingness to follow his own muse despite commercial trends, it’s easy to see Simpson becoming a dominant figure in Country music as he becomes more of a veteran.
With Merle Haggard’s passing last year, the only Country music icon with Hag’s epic stature who still remains is, of course, Willie Nelson. On the road again, Nelson is also still somehow regularly releasing fine records, like this year’s appropriately titled Last Man Standing, A founding member of the Outlaw Music Festival, Nelson anchors this year’s touring lineup with his Family Band. His presence itself transforms the concert into an event, and potentially becomes one of the last times you can see a national treasure in all of his renegade, outlaw glory at 85 years old.