Old Crow’s a ‘pusher’: Get hooked on Americana roots music

No band better illustrates the rising popularity of American roots music among both old and young audiences more than Nashville’s Old Crow Medicine Show.

The band’s new CD Tennessee Pusher (Nettwerk) is being universally praised as perhaps the most ambitious and arresting work they’ve done over their decade-long tenure.

And while Old Crow Medicine Show makes regular appearances on such acclaimed shows as A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System’s Austin City Limits, it’s another venue they’re currently focused on.

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ketch Secor deems their upcoming two-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium, which begins tonight and also features the Carolina Chocolate Drops, as one of those key events that helps refresh and enliven their music and performances. Tickets may still be available for tonight but Friday’s concert has been sold out for some time.

“Every time that we play in Nashville, especially at the Ryman, it’s something very special,” Secor said. “We look at those events almost like a chance to reboot and re-energize in terms of our music. We’ve been living in Nashville for some time now, but it’s still always a great time whenever we do a show here, and the amount of support and audience growth that we see has been very inspiring.”

The group has made the jump from underground sensation to recognized national attractions, having headlined at such major festivals over the last few years as Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as well as doing several European tours and regular Grand Ole Opry shows, including an appearance at the 75th anniversary celebration.

They’ve also contributed to the soundtrack for the Oscar-nominated film Transamerica and various other special projects.

It’s evidence of their musical versatility that Old Crow Medicine Show is at home in settings ranging from traditional country and stomping bluegrass to old-time revivals, blues and traditional jazz events, or folk and bluegrass festivals.

While some have dubbed their sound “Americana,” Secor feels the more accurate tag is “American roots music.”

“American roots music is one of this nation’s greatest contributions to humanity,” Secor said. “These are the real and true sounds created by people who weren’t concerned about trends or commercial pressures. All my musical heroes, people like Bob Dylan for instance, they might do a folk song one minute, then rock ‘n’ roll or the blues or gospel, or even record with Kurtis Blow. They constantly reinvent themselves, and that’s the thing that I think is so great about American roots music.”

It’s an indication of Old Crow Medicine Show’s rising status within the pop music strata that Tennessee Pusher was produced by the legendary Don Was, someone whose stature and reputation is such that he only takes those clients whose music he truly respects, enjoys and admires, or in some cases performers whose reputation impresses him.

“Don is real passionate about artistry,” Secor said. “He admires quality singing. Don came to see us in Nashville, and got a sense of where we were and are as a band, then we went to Los Angeles to do the recording. He was insistent that we come to the sessions well rehearsed and with something definite in mind that we wanted to do musically, then he reacted and responded to what we were doing.

A kinship was struck between Secor and Was over Was’ “real sense of soul in his approach.” Secor, who grew up listening to plenty of Motown, said he always strives to bring that same sense of soulfulness to the vocals and harmonies of Old Crow’s music.

“But I would say the greatest thing that Don helped us with was vision, because we’re doing some different things conceptually on this release,” Secor said. “We’re focusing more on original compositions, and wanted to broaden what we do as a band a bit more. It helps us keep growing as a group, and working with Don was a big help in that regard, because he’s always pushing for quality and excellence.”

The group does include one cover on Tennessee Pusher, a sparkling version of Blind Alfred Reed’s “Lift Him Up,” but otherwise the writing spotlight emphasizes numbers like “Methamphetamine” that’s co-written by Secor and David Rawlings (who produced the group’s previous releases Old Crow Medicine Show and Big Iron World, also for Nettwerk).

Secor’s “Carolina” is getting plenty of Americana and satellite radio airplay, while other cuts ranging from the title cut to “Alabama High-Test,” “Humdinger” (penned by band member Kevin Hayes, who plays the hybrid instrument called a Guitjo) and “Crazy Eyes” (co-written by Secor and guitar and banjo player Willie Watson). Other group members include Critter Fuqua (banjo, guitar, resonator guitar), Morgan Jahnig (bass) and Gill Landry (banjo, resonator guitar, guitar).

“We’re seeing more and more young people with banjos and guitars and mandolins than we did when we started, and that’s a great thing,” Secor said. “I think that they are developing more interest in American roots music because there’s a lasting quality and authority to it. Things come and go in terms of whatever’s on particular charts or whatever is getting a push by the industry, but you can also hear something that will move you in American roots music.

Whether you’re talking about the blues or country or gospel or bluegrass, there’s always plenty of source material.”

Original Link – Nashville City Paper

Watch for a review of the band’s new release soon.

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