A new album by Old Crow Medicine Show is a cause for celebration, and Paint This Town is no exception. The band plays with a raucous abandon made even more powerful by the stomping, percussive rhythms that swirl madly within the restraints of the sonic structures of each song. The band knows exactly what twisting path it’s leading us down, but they’re right there with us, laughing, crying, clapping, testifying, and selling some good old sonic elixir that’s good for whatever ails you.
The title track kicks off the album, a joyous and rollicking celebration of two troubadours who discover the limitations of small-town life and decide to paint the town water tower. The song opens with an echo of John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” inverting that song’s chord structure, but Old Crow Medicine Show’s song has a more celebratory, and anarchic, tone.
The somber “Reasons to Run,” a quiet, introspective ballad fueled by strumming guitars and accordion, negotiates loss and wistfully considers settling down from a life on the road. Fueled by a fast and furious harmonica, “DeFord Rides Again” is a tribute to DeFord Bailey, the “harmonica wizard” who was the first performer to be introduced on the Grand Ole Opry in 1927, and the first Black artist to perform on the show. A gospel piano introduces the anthemic “Brand New Mississippi Flag”; the flag will have “a diamond for Elvis / Eudora Welty lines / Railroad dust for the brakemen singing Blue Yodel #9 / She’ll have a stripe for Robert Johnson / And one for Charley Pride.” “Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” shimmies, shakes, and rattles, careening headlong into an evening of drinking, dancing, and making love down by the riverside.
The highlight of the album is “Gloryland,” a rapturous gospel-inflected song with harmonies that take heavenly flight as the instrumentals spiral up to the ethereal realm. “Gloryland” recalls The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” and offers a comment on the chaos and disorder of our world: “There’s a raging fever going around leaving only footprints in the sand / And every man’s a prisoner doing his own time locked out at the gates of Gloryland.” The singer finds purpose and hope in singing and pounding out a rhythm at the closed gates, though, and continues to raise his voice to open up “Gloryland” and to let us in.
Old Crow Medicine Show just keeps getting better with each album, and Paint This Town is a superb testament to the band’s sterling musicianship and ingenious songwriting. This is one of the best albums of the year so far.