Meth Labs, train hopping, gunsmoke in the valley. Wine, whiskey, women and guns, red clay baseball leagues and ground sausage. This is the new south that Old Crow Medicine Show portrays on their new cd Tennessee Pusher. Their third album continues to bring string band music kicking and screaming into the 21st century. With contemporary themes and old-time instruments we are witnessing the redefining of country music as your father knew it.
Tennessee Pusher is laced with sorrowful tales about dangerous lifestyles. The title song, “Alabama High Test” and of course, “Methamphetamine” document that drug’s destructive power while songs like “Highway Halo”, “Mary’s Kitchen” and “Caroline” provide a positive and hopeful antidote. All the while the band trades off lead vocals and wacky harmonies, using upbeat arrangements and off beat instruments (the guitjo?) to keep their simple country songs from wearing thin. They pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. without even mentioning his name in “Motel in Memphis” and give a nod toward Jerry Garcia in the Grateful Dead-like song “The Greatest Hustler of All.” ”Humdinger” rhymes the title with “folk singer” ala Bob Dylan but also excludes “right wingers” from the all night keg party the song describes.
The original five piece lineup adds guitarist Gil Landry to the band giving them a fuller sounding acoustic interplay. They get help from some big name rockers like Don Was (producer) Jim Keltner (drums) and Benmont Tench (organ), smoothing out the rough edges but keeping intact that youthful, wild abandon that has characterized them from their beginnings about five years ago. Guitar, fiddle, stand up bass and harmonica dominate the instrumentation but don’t call them a bluegrass band, Old Crow Medicine Show has as much in common with The Clash and Nirvana as they do Bill Monroe.
Listen for songs from the album Tennesse Pusher by Old Crow Medicine Show all this week on Paul Shugrue’s new music show “Out of the Box” on Hampton Roads public radio 89.5 WHRV Mon. through Thurs. from 7 to 9 p.m., Sat. afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. and on-demand at www.whrv.org/outofthebox.