Live Review

Old Crow Medicine Show Does Dylan Better Than Dylan

Old Crow Medicine Show on May 25, 2017

Old Crow Medicine Show at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston

Is that a sacrilegious statement? Possibly, but even the most ardent fans of Bob Dylan (and specifically of his seminal album Blonde on Blonde) have to admit that Dylan’s vocals have never been what drew his fans to him.

Old Crow Medicine Show, a band that reveres Dylan, is currently touring to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of Blonde on Blonde. They may be putting their bluegrass/Americana spin on the songs, but there is no doubt they are paying homage to one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

They appeared recently at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. Prior to the show, I saw many people queued at the box office to ask for their money back because they did not realize they were coming to a Dylan show. Seriously??? If you see a show described as “Old Crow Medicine Show – 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde” and you did not understand what that is, would you not research it? Nobody got their money back as far as I know and hopefully they came in and enjoyed the show.

This was not my first time seeing Old Crow, but it is quite possibly the show of theirs I enjoyed most. I am sure it is in part due to my knowing all the songs, but also due to my knowing the band better.

This is a group of supremely talented musicians. Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica, banjo, and vocals; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle, banjo, and vocals; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo, guitar, and vocals; Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards, drums, and vocals; Kevin Hayes (from Massachusetts!) on guitjo and vocals; and Morgan Jahnig on upright bass comprise the band. For this show, Joe Andrews performed with them on bass drum, banjo, pedal steel, mandolin and dobro.

They began the show with a choreographed march onto the stage with an instrumental introduction into ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ which was fun to watch! They had the entire audience singing the most iconic lines from the song with them – ‘But I would not feel so all alone/Everybody must get stoned’. If there were audience members who were not convinced they would enjoy the show, this should have changed their minds.

From that fabulous beginning, they played two sets, each consisting of one volume of the two-volume set, played in order.

There was a woman in the audience who sported a leopard skin pill-box hat in honor of the song of that name! Please excuse the quality of the photo below – it was taken with my phone, not my camera.

One of the things I enjoy most about Old Crow is their versatility as musicians. Each member of the band plays multiple instruments and they play them oh so well. Ketch sings most of the lead vocals, but others got a few chances to sing lead. Their harmonies are sublime, and added a depth to the songs that I did not imagine was possible.

They played a four-song encore which consisted of three other Dylan songs – ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, ‘Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’, and ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ – but ended the show with the only Old Crow song of the evening. Yes, you guessed it, ‘Wagon Wheel’. They were thrilled to have the audience singing the chorus along with them, and Ketch turned the mic toward the auditorium to capture our voices.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about this performance was that they spoke about their day in Boston and how much they enjoyed it. I for one appreciate when a band knows where they are and has taken some time to explore the area. I realize that time is not always built into a band’s schedule, but when it is, it is gratifying to know that they use the time well. (I recall a show I attended where the artist – who I will not name but is related to Dylan – disrespected the town in which he was performing and was heavily booed.)

This was an incredible show; if they are coming to a city near you on the remainder of their tour, do yourself a favor and see it. I would be surprised if you do not love it.

This review was originally published on Suze Reviews the Blues, where you can see a full set of photographs from the show.

Thanks to Old Crow Medicine Show for the ticket; all opinions are my own.

I thought this was a poor concert review. You use an extremely grandiose headline that borders on clickbait and then hardly make any arguments to back your claim. Right off the bat, the statement that no one is drawn to Dylan because of his vocals is patently false. Bob Dylan has one of the most unique and striking voices in American music. While he surely wouldn't win American Idol, that is much more a testament to the gangrenous nature of the show than it is to Dylan's vocal ability. 

In regards to the show itself, this was one of the most raucous and blistering shows I've ever seen. It felt as if it could've descended into chaos and disaster at any moment, but the band always pulled it from the edge at the last second. Old Crow knows what they're doing. They managed to take the sneering sarcasm and rebel-without-a-cause attitude of Dylan and filter it through Bluegrass virtuosity. Yet you hardly mention a detail of what made the show, and their interpretation of the record, so great. 

This is no doubt one of the best shows of 2017, but pairing a lackluster show review with such a baited statement is plain lazy and deceptive.

I thought this was a great concert review.  At times I've thought of searching for a companion No Depression site called No Dylan.  He was great. Was. WAS!  If you entered Bob in a Dylan impersonation contest he'd come in last.

I too am one of those "ardent" Dylan fans drawn to both his voice and his lyrics, and you can also throw in his melodies, arrangements, and general musicality. The negative reaction to Dylan's voice seems to always come from folks who prefer conventional standards of "good singing." That traditional notion generally excludes people like Howlin Wolf, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Dock Boggs,Woody Guthrie, Tom Waits, Lou Reed and an endless line of other "offbeat" singers whose primary vocal talent lay in emotional realism. That kind of singing screams, howls, cries, moans, and groans in a quest for real life emotion over and above hitting all the "correct" and "pretty" sounds.  As for the claim that Dylan's voice is offputting and gets in the way of enjoying his songs, every poll or survey of musicians and critics I've ever seen has ranked him as one of the greatest and most influential  rock singers of all time. That's one reason, among many, why the enjoyable cover of Blonde On Blonde by the Old Crow Medicine Show, will have a short shelf life compared to Dylan's original.

 

And yeah, Michael Jordan is one of the most influential basketball players of all time but I wouldn't want to see him go one-on-one with Steph Curry or Jason Isbell.   Dylan's recent work is the equivalent of Jordan's years with the Washington Wizards. 

I have no problem with the review...Dylan's voice is and always has been a bone of contention with people...and it has deteriorated over the years...because Bob sang like he did, even in his best days, it has provided many others the opportunity, or impetus to cover the amazing songs, which leave themselves open to a wide variety of interpretation...many would agree American Idol is symptomatic of much what is wrong with popular music today, and of course Bob wouldn't win there, nor would most of the people who have done justice when covering of his songs.  Old Crow is an excellent and inspired live act...I'm sure it was a great concert...

I agree that Dylan's current voice is...an aquired taste. But his voice on his early releases going into the 80s was fantastic and on "Blond on Blond" about at the height of its power of expression. "Blond on Blond" is probably the best "pop" album ever recorded so to suggest that Old Crow's version is surperior is simply ridiculous.

Having said that, I do like Old Crow's version of this album and it was especially nice they did all the songs including "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" which is never covered. They also do a good job on my favorite Dylan song ever: "Visions of Johanna" which is seldom covered because, I assume, it's so difficult. I'm sure this concert is a good one but not compared to Dylan doing these songs back when he wrote them.

I usually (almost always) find imperfect voices far more interesting than conventionally pretty voices. Like most, he started out with one kind of voice and decades later finds himself with another altogether. But there's a difference between craggy and shot, and Bob's a bit closer to the latter than the former. I am hoping that while he's doing these cover records he's writing new songs because his late career run starting with Time Out of Mind and then Love and Theft and Modern Times was damn good.  Whatever his voice, more like that would be something to listen to!