Old Crow Medicine Show
The Lumineers, The Milk Carton Kids
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Old Crow Medicine Show
Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) have come full circle playing their own brand of American roots music with a rock and roll attitude. The quintet met in New York in 1998 and hit the road, traveling city to city in a van and busking in the streets. They eventually settled for a year in North Carolina, where they ran into a bit of good fortune while playing in front of a local pharmacy to an impressed Doc Watson; the folk icon promptly scheduled the band to play at his MerleFest.
Soon after, OCMS relocated to Nashville and found themselves gracing the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, opening for Dolly Parton, touring with Merle Haggard and regularly appearing on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion. They caught the attention of Nettwerk Records in 2003 and signed on to release their debut album O.C.M.S, which they recorded at RCA's legendary Studio B and Woodland Sound Studio with producer/guitarist David Rawlings (Gillian Welch, Robyn Hitchcock) at the helm. O.C.M.S was released in 2004 to critical acclaim; the New Yorker said of the album, "Heartbreaking, plunky ballads and unfastened fiddle tunes charged with youthful vigor," while the Village Voice predicted, "Fame will soon lift her skirt for the band."
Their sophomore album, Big Iron World, was released in August 2006 and combined traditional American standards (including Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid") with OCMS originals that blended American roots, folk, blues, gospel, bluegrass and a little bit of gritty rock. Again produced by Rawlings, the album caught the attention of critics from Billboard to Vanity Fair and the first single, a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Down Home Girl," quickly became the #2 most added song at Triple A radio. Combined, the two albums have gone on to sell over 300,000 units.
OCMS can attribute much of their success to their relentless touring schedule. Between headlining shows and countless festivals (Bonnaroo, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, New Orleans Jazz Festival, etc), the band is constantly on the road and thrives off of their fans and live shows. They have made a name for themselves as energetic performers with an unbridled spirit.
"Wesley Schultz, 9, who wants to be an artist, said, 'I spend a lot of time on my drawings and it turns out good 'cause I've been practicing a lot.'" -The New York Times, 3/15/92
Twenty years ago, Wesley Schultz saw the future.
Back then, growing up in the New York City suburb of Ramsey, New Jersey, Wesley spent his days drawing side by side with his best friend, Josh Fraites. Today, as bandleader of The Lumineers, Wesley's replaced his pencil with a guitar, his drawings with songs, and plays side by side with Joshua's younger brother Jeremiah. He still practices a lot, and it still turns out good.
But The Lumineers' story didn't come so easily.
It begins in 2002, the year Jeremiah's brother, Josh, died from a drug overdose at 19. Amidst the loss and grief, Wes and Jer found solace in music, writing songs and playing gigs around New York. After battling the city's cutthroat music scene and impossibly high cost of living, the two decided to expand their horizons. They packed everything they owned—nothing more than a couple suitcases of clothes and a trailer full of musical instruments—and headed for Denver, Colorado. It was less a pilgrimage than act of stubborn hopefulness.
In 2011, an eponymous, self-recorded EP led to a self-booked tour, and before long The Lumineers started attracting devout fans, first across the Western US, then back in their old East Coast stamping grounds. Young, old and in-between, they're drawn by songs like "Ho Hey" and "Stubborn Love," Americana-inflected barnburners in the vein of the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. They're drawn by songs like "Slow it Down" and "Dead Sea," slow, sultry ballads that suggest the raw revelations of Jeff Buckley and Ryan Adams. They're drawn by the live Lumineers experience—a coming-together in musical solidarity against isolation, adversity, and despair.
The roots revival of the last few yeas has primed listeners for a new generation of rustic, heart-on-the-sleeve music—the kind that nods to tradition while setting off into uncharted territory. The Lumineers walk that line with an unerring gift for timeless melodies and soul-stirring lyrics. It will all be on display soon, on the band's first full-length album, due in March.
Born out of sorrow, powered by passion, ripened by hard work, The Lumineers have found their sound when the world needs it most.
The Milk Carton Kids
Many years ago, in a moment of professional crisis, I took up for a spell with The Jayhawks, an earnest band from Minnesota with whom I shared a tour, a dog-eared sensibility, and the lack of sufficient patronage that might’ve kept us from sleeping triple in the double beds of hard-lit motel rooms scattered throughout the land of the Great Lakes. Before meeting them, I had been given their most recent album by way of introduction; and I will confess here that upon first listen I became so seduced by the singular character that emerged from the songs, that I failed to register that there were actually two very different singers giving rise to him. Honest: I heard it all as if coming from one central figure who had a voice all his own, and that neither lead singer in the band could wholly claim or account for.
I was embarrassed when this mishearing was initially pointed out to me; but had I been on the other end of that inadvertent deception I would have thrilled to it: the notion that a nameless Other might have been rendered so persuasively in song that the artists themselves disappeared fully into its arc and service.
So now has proved the case with Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, The Milk Carton Kids: I listen and, try as I might, forget to hear them as distinct collaborators in song and story. Instead, they move to become a single, shadowy persona within the frame of Prologue –like young twins cast to tag-team one demanding role in a terse-but-tender film by Elia Kazan, haunted and hounded across a lonely landscape in search of the love that might provide their collective character a fleeting taste of both redemption and self-recognition.
And it isn’t only their singing voices that build this hall of mirrors for me: their songwriting and string work wind around each other like coarse briar at the base of a flag pole, confusing the mind as to how exactly it is fixed to the ground, while clearly keeping its banner raised high above the thorns, streaming if frayed. It is a flag that flies on behalf of no clear territory, though, as much as it waves to commemorate some missed opportunity; as if a particular time itself had been the fool’s destination, fading immediately upon arrival…leaving sand in the shoe, love in the rearview, and a hand bereft of the hammer that had almost forged something (God save us) permanent.
Their individual aspirations aside –Joey’s or Kenneth’s— I should say I don’t wish for it to be different, don’t wish for my confusions between them to be abated. I prefer disorientation when it comes to music. I live to be deceived, and would far rather be seduced than have anything explained.
As for this unnamed fella, then, who weaves hurt-but-hopeful through these songs…he’s got something he needs to tell me, I think. And only because he speaks to me from the moving shadows, his face half hidden, will I truly be able to recognize his story as my own.
- Joe Henry
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