-->
Music

Old Crow Medicine Show: Tennessee Pusher

Old Crow Medicine Show is the rare band that has found a way to be all things to all people without ever sacrificing their integrity at the oft-visited altar of universal appeal.


Old Crow Medicine Show

Tennessee Pusher

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-09-22
Amazon
iTunes

Old Crow Medicine Show is the rare band that has found a way to be all things to all people without ever sacrificing their integrity at the oft-visited altar of universal appeal. Roots-music purists cannot deny the authenticity with which the group revives bluegrass, country, and folk standards while penning originals that reflect the most classic sounds of those styles without seeming imitative. For those who would cringe at being subjected to an enthusiastic witness for the gospel of old-time Americana, however, Old Crow Medicine Show offers hallelujah-inducing hooks (delivered with a hellraiser's spirit) that pack a considerable punch and pull listeners into each song, creating attachments that go beyond style or preference.

The true genius of Old Crow Medicine Show is in their ability to be subversive yet sensitive. Many of the band's tunes are put forth with either a devil-may-care attitude, or are given their weight by a cynical, sometimes unlikable narrator. The minute their spirit seems unembracable, though, the group tweaks a chord progression, bends a melody, or twists a phrase to reveal a staggering understanding of love and loss. Collectively, they come across as the roots-music equivalent of the cinematic leading man, the cause of whose brooding exterior is revealed to be a great well of heartbreak.

On their latest, the band continues to exhibit these characteristics, meaning there is nothing terribly revolutionary about Tennessee Pusher, yet that's not a bad thing. The closer the band stays to their core, the more confident they sound. And, somehow, by staying familiar, Old Crow Medicine Show expresses a liberty that makes them refreshingly relevant. For example, Old Crow Medicine Show stick close to the thematic ground trod by their predecessors, working in many of the same types of songs found on 2006's excellent Big Iron World. "Methamphetamine" is an autumnal, far less gleeful companion to that album's "Cocaine Habit"; "Mary's Kitchen" matches the audacious, would-be-unbearable-if-it-wasn't-delivered-with-a-wink innuendo of "New Virginia Creeper".

And, there is no shortage of love-gone-wrong tunes, the best of which this time around is "The Greatest Hustler of All". A seven-minute travel through heartbreak and humiliation, the ballad deftly likens a particularly wily woman with the most devious of criminals as the narrator sings: "The greatest hustler of all stands about four foot nine / Made to be a moocher / Low down hoochie coocher… / Hustles with the greatest of ease / Fools any boy any time / The greatest hustler in all of this world hustled this heart of mine…"

And, as on previous efforts, nearly every tune here is a winner. The best of the album's 13 cuts includes "Highway Halo", a harmonica and organ-driven mid-tempo number with a gliding melody and easy groove. The album features far more rock-style organ than on Big Iron World, a welcome addition that is perhaps reflective of the touch of legendary producer Don Was. No matter whose idea it was to add those flourishes, they only serve to further flesh out the band's already layered sound.

Another stand-out, "Methamphetamine" tracks the drug's heartland grip and its ultimately destructive effects with striking realism: "Mama she ain't hungry no more / She's waiting for a knock on the trailer door / It's gonna rock you like a hurricane / It's gonna rock you till you lose sleep / It's gonna rock you till you're out of a job / It's gonna rock you till you're out on the street". Also falling under the category of socially relevant tunes is "Motel in Memphis", a solemn reflection on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lest Tennessee Pusher seem all drama and difficult subject matter, the band revisits its freewheeling side on tunes like "Mary's Kitchen" and the album closer (and first single), the harmonica-led, Dust Bowl folk rave-up "Caroline".

Tennessee Pusher is one of the better releases of 2008 and further cements Old Crow Medicine Show's place alongside bands like the Avett Brothers among the leaders of the roots-music revival. The band's mix of creativity and credibility, serious and strange is yet again a delight to experience.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image