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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Old Crow Medicine Show: Eutaw

Old Crow Medicine Show’s 2001 studio album Eutaw was recently re-released in light of the success of Big Iron World (my top album of 2006). Though lacking the electricity and innovation of BIW, this earlier and earthier recording of mostly traditional tunes was obviously a blueprint for the astounding work to follow.

Songs like the rusty “Raise A Ruckus”, jaunty “Tear It Down”, and melodic melancholia “Lonesome Road Blues” sound more something to be found on an old-timey compilation from Smithsonian Folkways rather than an aughts release. The disc also includes a lovely almost a capella rendition of the traditional “Silver Dagger”, which I know best through Irish band Solas.

The bluesy “Hesitation Blues” and harmonica splashed “Down South Blues” give a glimpse into the OCMS barnstormers to come. A re-vamped and superior version of “Cocaine Habit” was featured on Big Iron World, but this molasses paced quirky kazoo take is also nice.

Old Crow Medicine Show Official Site
OCMS MySpace

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Old Crow Medicine Show Videos & Mp3

Old Crow Medicine Show recorded two songs with Cowboy Jack Clement that can be viewed at producer Don Was’ website. The page also has a zip file of the mp3.

You can also see OCMS’ Austin City Limits performance of “Minglewood Blues” (from their brilliant album Big Iron World) at their website.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Just A Girl I Used To Know (Video & Mp3)
Old Crow Medicine Show – Minglewood Blues (Video)

Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect. They’re another band that played Mountain Stage, and I’m very glad to see them popping up elsewhere. Their music was featured in Transamerica, and they count among their fans Gillian Welch (who plays drums on the album), Norah Jones, and now me.

Old Crow Medicine Show sound just like their name would imply. Their music is a mix of oldtimey country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, soul, Appalachian folk, barbershop quartet harmony, and just a hint of rock. Big Iron World is their sophomore album, and you can probably tell I’m in love with it. So much so I’m finding it difficult to find the words to properly describe how great it is. Just trust me on this.

The opening track, “Down Home Girl”, is my new theme song. Seriously. You may have picked up hints that I’m an Appalachian girl, now you know. The countrified lyrics are funny, the vocals are outstanding, and the harmonica is pure blues.

“Cocaine Habit”, “My Good Gal”, and “I Hear Them All” sound like Bob Dylan singing and playing his harmonica and guitar with a bluegrass band.

“Minglewood Blues” is too awesome to describe in any other way. This is what bluegrass harmony and music should sound like.

“James River Blues” is an old fashioned work song, full of fiddle and banjo. “New Virginia Creeper” and “Union Maid” are upbeat, hootenanny songs. And as the title suggests, “God’s Got It” is a gospel tune. The foot tappin’, fast paced “Bobcat Tracks” takes the album out with more Dylanesque vocals and lots of banjo.

Big Iron World is a solidly wonderful listen from beginning to end. Even if you don’t usually like bluegrass, give it a try. I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. But then, I’m not just anyone.

Down Home Girl Video

Old Crow Medicine Show Official Site
Old Crow on MySpace

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