Old Crow Medicine Show – Tennessee Pusher (2008)

by Matt Reynolds

Tennessee Pusher

Tennessee Pusher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


by Matt Reynolds

With the legend and lore of the old-timey string band on steroids growing with every hell-raising show they performed, Old Crow Medicine Show’s live performances were becoming exactly what the band wanted them to be: An old fashioned tent revival gone mad.

From the moment folk-country legend Doc Watson’s daughter discovered the boys buskin for coin in front of Boone Drug Store in the Appalachian Mountains, all the way until their latest full-length album, the band has kept evolving. But not losing their unique blend of a century of American music along the way.

After the band experienced notable success with its fifth album Big Iron World, they decided to leave the familiar confines of Music Row to craft their most venturesome project yet.

Recorded in Los Angeles under the thumb of legendary producer Don Was, Tennessee Pusher would become Ketch Secor’s dream realized — a forewarning haunting tale of heartache, murder, drug abuse and redemption.

Unlike the first OCMS albums, the boys would be without singer/songwriter Critter Fuqua on this venture. Reportedly grown weary of life on the road, Fuqua’s superb songwriting that was evident on albums such as OCMS and Big Iron World would certainly be missed. But longtime friend of the band and New Orleans native Gil Landry stepped in to help produce the band’s most critically acclaimed project to date.

The album opens up with “Alabama High Test,” a tale of modern-day moonshiners trafficking a “Dixie fried homegrown” down Interstate 65. (Alabama high-test, got me in a big mess. Higher then a wildcat running from the wolf pack. They’re gonna put me in the slammer if they catch me with that Alabama High-Test.) A real crowd pleaser at live shows, “High Test” is the kind of track that kicks you in the face with a hob nail boot and demands your attention.

From there the band introduces its first ever track with drums in Secor’s easy riding love tale “Highway Halo” and Willie Watson’s seven minute narration of heartache follows in “The Greatest Hustler of All.” (The greatest hustler of all stands about four foot nine. Made to be a moocher, low down hoochie coocher, her daddy made her walk the line.)

The tale continues with Secor’s eerie warning of the pains and tragedy drug abuse in a suppressing crowd favorite, “Methamphetamine.” (Well it’s a war out there, and it’s fought by poor white men, from the Plateau to the falls of the Cumberland. You better watch your back, ’cause you just can’t trust a friend.) While the song clearly highlights the horror of meth abuse, the tune usually gets howls of support from patrons at live shows, perhaps further illuminating the point OCMS is trying to get across.

Sprinkled in throughout the album are classic country ballads of melancholy such as “Next Go Round”… “That Evening Sun” … and “Lift Him Up” — all three vocalized by Watson’s classic folk voice.

“Mary’s Kitchen” is Landry’s comical description of a Memphis brothel that’s swinging enough to raise a corpse out of their seat to shake it down. (She got a sign on her front porch saying ‘Hot Stuff For Sale’ in a little three-room shotgun in the alley behind the jail.)

The album ends with Secor’s pride and joy, “Caroline,” which he has tried to get recorded for years but had never found the right sound until Pusher. (Oh Caroline, heartbroken hard times, they never got us down. Walkin’ the same line through every shady southern town, hand-in-hand, your arm ’round mine, oh Caroline we’ll be just fine.)

While most of the experience on this album is filled with sadness and remorse, “Caroline” sends you off into the world with a renewed since of hope.

++++This article originally appeared on SomethingElseReviews.com in February 2010. ++++