Friday, November 07, 2008

Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher

Download: Old Crow Medicine Show - "Caroline"

Old Crow Medicine School
Tennessee Pusher
Grade: B

Few things say Minnesota like the Prairie Home Companion. And few things say prairie the way Old Crow Medicine Show does. A while back, the modern bluegrass staples hit up the Prairie Home Companion Street Dance, infusing the event with some good, old-fashioned foot-stomping, banjo-pickin’ energy. The group is on the road in support of their latest album, Tennessee Pusher, which hit shelves late last month. Even so, OCMS served up a strong mix of songs from their three studio albums.

I can’t really impress upon you how badly you need to go see OCMS if you’re a fan of the band at all. In the studio, a lot of the band’s excitability gets skimmed off. For example, on their latest, “Humdinger” is a fiddle-driven, whiskey-swillin’ tribute to partying the night away. It comes off as a little flat and restrained on the album. Too perfect for its own good, “Humdinger” feels self-conscious. Live, however, perfect chords and immaculately executed bass get muddied up. Vocals shake with unbridled energy. And that’s exactly what the song calls for. “Humdinger” is supposed to sound like someone bought it a few drinks and a cup of coffee.

The energy OCMS puts into their live show pushes the band’s lyrical matter to the next level, as well. OCMS isn’t really a very happy band. On the new album, the subject of meth addiction is discussed a lot (Cocaine is heavily featured on 2004’s self-titled. I wonder what that says about Nashville.) All of their really great songs are tinged with regrets. The rattles and cracks in Ketch Secor and Willie Watson’s voices really push the sorrow and brokenness on Tennessee Pusher’s first single, “Caroline.” On album, the chorus of “Caroline” takes on an almost barbershop-quartet feel. Live, Secor’s imperfect tenor reinforces the desperation in his pleas. It creates a much better balance between what he says and how he says it.

And let’s be honest. For all the restraint they show in the recording of their songs, OCMS puts a bit of filler on their albums. With only 45 or so minutes to play, the band really had to pick the best of the best. I’ll go with that – I wasn’t terribly excited at hearing the irritating platitudes of the softly strummed, sparsely instrumented ballad “Always Lift Him Up.

Perhaps the coolest thing about OCMS playing the street dance (besides getting to see “Wagon Wheel” live, of course) was the way they played with Garrison Keillor. Covering a range of folk classics (including “CC Rider,” which OCMS covered on their self-titled), the band flashed some campfire-chanty cred. Seeing the boys get into it with an old Minnesota institution was a pretty sweet cap on a fantastic show.

OCMS MySpace Page

(April Wright)

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