The five-piece Old Crow Medicine Show take an old-time American roots sound and give it a contemporary makeover, in much the same way that Gram Parsons did with country music some 40 years ago. Built on the solid musical conventions of expertly applied acoustic instrumentation, stirringly replete harmonies and unpretentious lyrics that tell of everyday life, love and loss, Tennessee Pusher has a simplicity that exudes effortless beauty. The producer, former Bonnie Raitt collaborator Don Was, does a great job of avoiding any insincere gloss, maintaining utmost integrity throughout.
There are moments that sound like outright fun as on “Humdinger” with its raggedly strummed banjo sounding wondrously unrefined, making for a lived-in and enticing sound. The lyrics only add to this allure and sense of fun: “We got wine, whiskey, women and guns / how can you afford not to have any fun?”
“Motel In Memphis” takes a more reflective viewpoint; a sparse acoustic arrangement includes the forlorn sounds of Dobro and harmonica, with real power being provided by the sturdy harmony vocals of the catchy chorus.
“Methamphetamine” ploughs a similarly roots-laden furrow, again deploying poised vocal harmonies to underscore the powerful lyrics that warn of the destructive consequences of this illicit substance. It’s at times like these that OCMS can come across as a more readily accessible Neil Young, portraying the lyrical deftness of Ryan Adams but without the unnecessary show.
It’s when OCMS turn to a more leisurely, old-time sound that you really get the opportunity to enjoy their music, and to appreciate their instrumental blend and heart-warming vocal harmonies. The sinuous vocal drawl of “The Greatest Hustler Of All” is delivered with such earnestness over a glorious backdrop of languid Dobro and banjo, whilst the cadenced strum of a guitar keeps time.
Tennessee Pusher is warm, sincere music. It sneaks into your subconscious with its effortless cool and bleak beauty. It’s distinctive American roots music — with one hell of a kick!