oldcrowbw2With Tennessee Pusher, left-of-center bluegrass-slash-rock band Old Crow Medicine Show has a new album iconic and idiosyncratic enough to be both mainstream and misunderstood. If justice were to prevail, this gem of a record would be in line to earn a Country Album of the Year award.  But it won’t and you get the feeling Old Crow’s Ketch Secor doesn’t care.

“When I listen to country radio, I listen to it because I like to know what we are up against and who is setting the trends we are here to buck,” says Secor, the chief songwriter and frontman for a band that doesn’t seem to give a crap about pomp or glitz. As Secor talks, it’s evident he wants real, tangible, greasy, smoky, oozing vitality in his music, whether out of the five band members he tours with, or from speakers that play the music of others.

“I believe in the power of music – to console, comfort, heal and to bring joy.” Says Secor, on the phone from Nashville as the band gears up for a tour that will take it across the United States again and then to Australia for the first time. The band hits Indy for a show at the Vogue January 31, for the fourth stop of the tour

The record debuted at #7 on the Billboard Country Music album charts with scarcely any mainstream radio help.

And here’s why it is a great album: It is full of hook-laden, embraceable harmonies and genuine rock and roll attitude from a bunch of guys who have cloaked it all in classic country instrumentation. Unique yet familiar. An oddly compelling record that reveals itself with multiple listens, as great albums do. Well-crafted and inspirational songs about mortality (“Evening Sun”, “Next Go ‘Round”) mixed with boozy party songs (“Alabama High-Test” – an ode to moonshine, and “Humdinger” – a Crow retro-sounding cut about a cop-free party).

There are also distinct reminders of influences that blow through their music. Listen closely and hear moments that echo The Beatles, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kristofferson, Springsteen, Skynyrd, and Neil Young.

Playing music together since 1998, Old Crow Medicine Show was started by Harrisonburg, Virginia junior high buddies Secor and Critter Fuqua. They went to New York state, met friends Willie Watson and Ben Gould, and recorded a record (1998’s Trans:mission) in Critter’s bedroom, so they would have something to sell when they went on the road. Since then, the current lineup of Secor, Fuqua, Watson, traveled hard – crisscrossing the country, playing thousands of shows.

“People are going to get a high energy, pulse-racing, foot-stomping show,” Secor says of the band’s concert. “Sometimes it feels like a little bit of a camp meeting, like a little proselytizing is going on, in a snake handling, strychnine drinking way. Though I’m not saying were are going to drink strychnine on stage, and I don’t want to encourage anyone else to either. But if you are seeing us for the first time, I do hope you have tomorrow off from work.”

Secor, intelligent and forthcoming in an interview, is strident about his quest to carry American music forward.

“Regionality in music is one of the most important factors we have today,” he says, as I hear a dog bark in the Nashville background. “I like a sense of place in music. I really like artists who come from somewhere. Listen to John Cougar and you know the guy’s from the Hoosier state. There’s a backdrop to all the language in his songs. There is a rusty truck idling outside of a Quik Mart. I know where that is.”

There is plenty of unique landscape in the “Tennessee Pusher” album. The harmonies are raggedly perfect. The fiddle playing screams like a rock and roll guitar. The banjos and harmonicas and stand up bass ring familiar. It is deep-rooted American music, blasted into 2009.

Produced by Don Was (best known for helping resurrect the career of Bonnie Raitt, crafting her 1990 “Nick of Time” Grammy winning album), the band also enlisted legendary drummer Jim Keltner for six of the 12 tracks and Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench on four.

“The album is a progression more than a departure from our earlier albums,” Secor says. “It is a little more accessible. That is because of Don.”

Secor seems to relish the band’s place in the continuum of American music, no matter what their too-soon-to-tell legacy ends up being.

“I am honored to be a part of the work that has gone on in the past to get us to the present,” he adds. “I like to think Old Crow and Barrack and the dreamers, thinkers and tinkerers are all part of a new paradigm.”

(also read at nuvo.net – Indianapolis’s Alternative Newsweekly)

New Springsteen – Working on Dream – The First Listen

bannertour2Picked up the new Bruce Springsteen album “Working on A Dream” a few days early. It is getting both roundly ripped for being rushed and lyrically vapid, and also earning some glowing reviews, focusing on the well-executed pop/rock sonic departure and commending him for not using his platform to perform a soundtrack to the Obama juggernaut.

Here’s really what it is: “Working on a Dream” actually allows us a new way to listen to a Springsteen album. Is rocks and pops like nothing he has made. Clear and undone of the muddy Brendan O’Brien production of “Magic”, it positively gleams. The band shines, even if much of it was overdubbed, after a core group of Bruce, pianist Roy Bitten, drummer Max Weinberg and bassist Gary Tallent cut the basic tracks. But it moves me. And I wasn’t trying to like it, anymore than I was trying to hate it. I was just listening.

There are hooks and shining chord changes and plenty to make it as interesting – in spiritually musical sense – as any music coming from any artist.

Lyrically, I will give those who say the gut-wreching, subtle universal truths revealed by Bruce are fewer than on, say, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. Yet it feels like a record (and I will periodically still use the term RECORD to refer to albums. I won’t however, say EIGHT-TRACK) that will grow, peeling back to reveal more good tracks than bad with repeated listens. As I write about the latest Old Crow Medicine Show album, “Tennessee Pusher”, the best albums are never just a sugar buzz, though need enough instant gratification out of the case to warrant a deeper dive.

Bruce has something good here. So I will continue to dive in. More listens will tell me if this one is a masterpiece hidden by those who bemoan because of what it is (different), or if it is really just a 2009 version of “Human Touch” (shiny and empty). I’ve been wrong before. But my gut is saying interesting and worth the time to get to know it

I’ve been right before too.

Look Out. It’s Wedding Night in America.


None of this is true.

All names have been altered to protect wills from being changed to exclude the writer.

Got it straight?

Totally fictional. Wink, wink.


First question. Been to any wedding?

Second question. Did you have any fun?

Third question. (especially crucial answer here) Were any family members involved, either in the ceremony or the reception?

Is it just the weddings I go to, but are they mostly affairs that tend to bring out the same traits in friends and fellow members of your family? Holidays and weddings. The two most statistically ripe times for drunkenness, erratic behavior and bad old habits.

Allow me to cite examples.

Instead of taking in a killer concert this past Saturday night with the Why Store, and Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, my wife Amy and I were guests a wedding for one of my cousins.

Oh man. Life’s scariest cliches spring to life. Recognize any?

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.

We pull up in the driveway of the First Church of the Unlimited Giving in Indianapolis, and are greeted by a rent-a-cop decrying all compact cars carrying fewer than three people must park on the other side the lot, which can only be reached by getting back on the interstate and reentering the lot via the dirt road by the down by the river.

Ok. Fine. At least we were on time. We go, park, and I get out of the car, look over and notice my wife is looking at the right front fender.

“When did you get this dent?” she asks.

Huh? What dent?

“This one that looks like somebody leaned too hard against your car.”

I got no idea. Seriously. Great start, though. Oh, and the lot has parking meters. Nice touch.

We walk the nearly two miles to the church, and are greeted my cousin Jason. The cousin who thinks dressing up means clean jeans and menthol instead of unfiltered Camels. “Menthols smell better, right?” he’s been heard to say.

“Sup?” he asks.

“Not much. How’s (Oh, God, what is her name?), uh, life treatin’ ya?” I say. “You remember Amy, right.?”

“Oh. yeah. Absolutely.”

Noticing a leering quality, I decide to push on.

Inside, we run into Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob of the eternally rock hard handshake.

“Well, there’s the kids.” Bob yells. “How we doin?”

He extends his hand. The land of no return.


“You kids in town for the night? Staying close by?” he inquires.

Loaded questions. Better fib.

“Nah. We need to get back to Fort Wayne tonight. Have some work to do at the office tomorrow. What are you doing?”

“Well, you know Alice. She’ll be dancing until they kick her out tonight, so were at the Ramada. Come on by later,” Bob says, volunteering his room for us to crash in, I guess.

“Hey, maybe. Supposed to be a nice reception.” I interject.

“Yeah, I hope drinks are free,” he says.

After these first two conversations, I think “me too”.

Amy and I are escorted into the sanctuary by one of the ushers from the brides side. Seems nice enough. Wonder to myself the relevance of the partially hidden ax tattoo over his right ear. . No problems though, as we walk into a nicely decorated church, with loads of white colors, live flowers and candles.

We’re seated next to by Aunt Karen. We like her. She doesn’t pass judgement on too many people, dresses nicely, at least pretends she likes us and has two daughters, my cousins, both nice and intelligent. We basically lucked out here. We could have the fate of by brother Ryan, who has to sit next to friend of the family, Betty, who has the worst smelling feet in the northern hemisphere.

At least we hope it’s her feet.

The bride is beautiful. The groom is handsome, just as they’re supposed to be.

Neither is Catholic, so no need to put extra money in the meter. Grandmas cry. Nobody passes out. I do. I do, and we’re done in less than 45 minutes.

And the race is on. Who knows the shortcut to the reception hall? Heck, who knows the short cut to our car? Disneyland has a tram for people parked as far away as we are.

Needless to say, we aren’t the first ones to the reception, held at a sweet little country club in the middle of nowhere. On the walk up the driveway, I notice the guys who were earlier serving as the ushers double-fisting beers. I take it as a good sign. Looks to be a party.

Relegated to a back table because of our arrival time, we do get a prime seat to survey the scene. Christmas, reunions, weddings, funerals. The cast of characters is always the same. Anybody look familiar to you?

There’s Crazy Jackie, with her boyfriend at least 20 years her junior. She’s got the DJ around waist, undoubtedly trying to sweet talk him into playing “The Stripper” song during the garter toss.

There’s Uncle Steve and his wife Aunt Christy. Between them, they wear six necklaces, seven rings, have had four plastic surgeries, and six kids. Gotta love ’em, just don’t get too close to Christy. She’ll pinch your ass before you can say goosedown pillow.

Hey, there’s Aunt Mary. Probably the nicest woman here. I walk up to hug her, and she hugs me first. Good feeling when that happens.

Unlike the feeling I get when, later in the evening, I look to the dance floor and see the Johnny Travolta (circa 1978) of the family, cousin Willie, by himself, doing his knee drops and toe spins, and arm waves to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”

Seems like the DJ, in his pink bowtie and pink suspenders, likes it though. That is, until Willie drops a little too hard on the portable dance floor, and causes the CD to stop completely.

Whoops. That’s just too bad.

I wave to Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma sees me, but I don’t think Grandpa does. And shouting will do no good. I’m sure the hearing aid went off about the time KC started singing. Or it might have gone off when Grandma told him 45 miles per hour was just too fast for the interstate.

Here comes the bride and groom, followed by a photographer who looks like he’s been run over by a car and a couple horses.

A video guy comes around with a camera and microphone wanting everybody to give best wishes to the newlyweds. I give directions to the Condoms R Us store in Daytona Beach. My wife slaps the back of my head.

I notice a lady two tables over takes a slug of her beer, and hold the microphone up to her ear like a telephone. I think about alerting America’s Funniest Home Videos that a tape is in the mail.

Some kids come running by, and head into the hallway to do a kiddie version of “YMCA”. I wonder if they know what that song was about when it came out. I sure didn’t until Jim and Tammy Bakker tried to save me by telling me all about it.

So we eat dinner, kick back, play tic-tac-toe with a one of kids sitting at the table. (I get “beat” three out of four games.) We move onto the “I Spy Game”. Again, the seven-year old kicks my butt.

Wallflower Jane, my Dad’s cousin, never moves from her spot at the neighboring table. I think her corduroy skirt has suctioned her too the chair.

A pack of high school girls I’ve never seen flit past our table wearing flowered dresses shorter than a popsicle in July. Of course, I didn’t look.

White wedding cake is eaten. A garter gets thrown. The bouquet is tossed. Some guy is on a table exhorting the crowd to do the “Country Joe and the Fish” cheer.

It’s time to go.

As we walk into the parking lot, and up the driveway, I look at Amy and smile. I mention how it’s nice the most people get married only once and Christmas with this crew is along ways away.

We grab each other’s hand and walk in silence until we get into the car.

“Have a good time?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah. Gotta love the family.” I say, starting the car.

Amy laughs.

So do I.