Old Crow Medicine Show: Tennessee Pusher

Tennessee Pusher is the new album from Old Crow Medicine Show, one of my very favorite bands. OCMS’ brilliant previous release Big Iron World was my #1 CD of 2006, and I also enjoyed their older albums like Eutaw. Produced by Don Was, Tennessee Pusher strays from the band’s signature punked up old-timey bluegrass sound to delve into a more standard Americana singer-songwriter style. The change in direction is disappointing as the band’s strength seems to lie in their fiery barnburners, but I appreciate their attempts to avoid typecasting and there’s still plenty to love in this album.

Cause when it’s either the mine or the Kentucky National Guard
I’d rather sell him a line than be dying in the coal yard
Now Papa he ain’t hungry no more
He’s waiting for a knock on the trailer door

The sound of Tennessee Pusher mostly falls into a much blander brand of Americana than the blood pumpin’, foot tappin’ punked up bluegrass style of Big Iron World. I have to say this greatly disappoints me. I tried very hard to keep an open mind and not compare the new album to the old, because the artistry displayed on Tennessee Pusher (which I’ll delve into below) is still of the highest quality when taken on its own merit. I’m not going to pretend that I’ll be listening to the new disc half as much as I’ve listened to OCMS’ previous releases, because I probably won’t. But this discontentment is solely due to the difference in the tempo of the music and tone of the vocals, because…

The lyrics and instrumentation of Tennessee Pusher stay true to the high calibre I’ve come to expect from Old Crow Medicine Show. Even the most boring of arrangements grows on me with each listen because the lyrics are so poetically, often painfully honest. And there are some tracks that have enough spirit in ’em to stand out sonically: the fast talkin’ twanger “Alabama High-Test” that opens the album, the aptly titled “Humdinger”, and the harmonica driven finale “Caroline”.

By far, though, the most stunning songs on the album are the chilling haunts “Motel In Memphis” and “Methamphetamine”. The former deals with the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the latter looks into the poverty that motivates the growing industry of the title drug. I seem to recall that another blog (Songs: Illinois?) once deemed meth the new moonshine of the South. That is both an accurate likening and not. The secretive, often fugitive lifestyle of those who make the volatile concoction does seem similar to the old-time moonshiners and their hidden stills. But for those of us in Southern states that have watched in horror as our hometowns have slowly been eaten alive by this insidious hillbilly black market and live in fear of our homes or lives being destroyed by a neighbor’s lab exploding, meth seems more like the new nitroglycerin.

Meth is not a topic that I recall having heard directly addressed in song before now, and it’s this kind of unique lyrical daring that makes me adore Old Crow Medicine Show – no matter what style of music they choose to explore. These boys were born of the same kind of country life that I came from, and the conflicting emotions they express about their place of origin is comparable to what I often feel about my own birthplace. If Eutaw revisited the plucky attitude of the old South, and Big Iron World rumbled along as that way of life crashed into the modern age, then Tennessee Pusher is firmly and masterfully planted in the sad, sorry state of the new South.

The biggest regret of my life is that I missed Old Crow Medicine Show’s performance at Mountain Stage. I hope they’ll return to my beloved venue soon!

Old Crow Medicine Show – Caroline (mp3 expired)

Old Crow Medicine Show Official Site

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