Friday, August 3, 2018


Methamphetamine is still, for some, a remedy and, should you be obese and with a hyperactive attention deficit disorder, and for whom other drugs have failed, it may yet be prescribed you. But otherwise it remains a scourge, ravaging communities for its "recreational" effects, which ain't no game I want to play. Cheap and relatively easily fashioned, as anyone who has watched "Breaking Bad" will be familiar, it is better known by its street name of crystal meth. And despite the fact the band represented here take on the title of a Medicine Show, I don't think they are singing of its medical success, the title of the parent album, "Tennessee Pusher" perhaps giving more the game away. But don't get me wrong, the song is no paean to the charms of the high, as can or used to be the case in times and songs not so far gone, more a warning as to the perils of the low. (In many ways I see it a companion piece to Cocaine, written as Coco Blues by the Rev. Gary Davis in 1961, and memorably added to and covered by Jackson Browne 15 odd years later.)

Times, they ain't like nothing they used to be
From rocky mount' to northeast tennessee
Where the river flows with a dusty, cold disease
And the babies whine cause they can't find nothing to eat

But, mama, she ain't hungry no more
She's waiting for a knock on the trailer door

It's gonna rock you like a hurricane
It's gonna rock you 'til you lose sleep
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out of a job
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out on the street
It's gonna rock you 'til you're down on your knees
It's gonna have you begging pretty please
It's gonna rock you like a hurricane

Old Crow Medicine Show are a wonderful band, built on the slim sounding idea of recreating the sound of an old-timey string band, busking their way through an amalgam of folk, country and blues. But rather than offering faux re-enactions and milking the idea, along the lines of, say, Hayseed Dixie and their bluegrass spoofs, these guys have stuck to their guns through, largely, writing their own material, a gritty steampunk americana that sits comfortably alongside the more acoustic works of Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp. Or indeed virtually any period Bob Dylan, a recent recording being a live tribute to Blonde on Blonde. Which is terrific. It seems somehow apocryphal that their break came as they were found strumming in the street, conveniently enough by Doc Watson, legendary bluegrass guitarist, who was visiting a pharmacy in Boone, North Carolina. Reeks of set-up to me, like those you-tube videos where a busker sings a song by somebody, who, surprise, surprise, just happens to be passing, and joins in, to the astonishment of massed ranks of phone photographers. But, true or no, it's a great tale. That was in the very late 90's, Watson bringing them to the 2000 Merlefest as his guests.

Tennessee Pusher is their 3rd major label outing, the first to be produced by Don Was, earlier production duties being by David Rawlings, who also actually co-wrote the featured song. Another example of with friends like these, maybe, but sympathetic production certainly made a difference, as a listen to an earlier 'remedy' song, Memphis Minnie's "Cocaine Habit" shows, a much rawer deal.

With various changes in personnel, but still centred about core members, Ketch Secor and Critta Fuqua, who met in 7th grade and started it all. Nearly 30 years on, not content to rest their laurels on the Dylan/BoB set, they have recently issued "Volunteer", album number 6, in April this year, the disc rocketing to a number 1 in the bluegrass chart, 7 in americana/folk and 14 in country. That's some sales. I haven't seen 'em live yet, despite 9 trips to the UK over the years. I really must remedy that. (Just don't come back with the wretched Mumfords next time.....)

You want me to beg?

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