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?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Remedies: Mental Medication

U.K.: Mental Medication [purchase]

The original lineup of U.K. brought together some of the best at their instruments British prog rockers. The band was formed in the late 1970s by drummer Bill Bruford, who had played in Yes and King Crimson, and singer/bassist John Wetton, who had played with Bruford in King Crimson and had also been part of Roxy Music and Uriah Heep. Bruford and Wetton each recruited another musician, with Bruford bringing Allan Holdsworth, who had been with Soft Machine, Tony Williams’ Lifeline, Gong, and Jean-Luc Ponty, as well having played on Bruford’s debut solo album, and Wetton inviting Eddie Jobson, a keyboard player and violinist who had played with him in Roxy Music, and who was in Frank Zappa’s band.

U.K., the one and only album recorded by this lineup is considered by many to be a prog-rock classic. Excellent playing (of course) on interesting, unusual songs, featuring a true fusion of rock, jazz and classical influences, has made this one of my favorites—which is not surprising, considering that Bruford is probably my favorite drummer, Holdsworth is my favorite guitarist, and I have lots of respect for both Wetton and Jobson.

That being said, I have to admit that “Mental Medication” is not one of my favorite songs from the album. There’s something about Wetton’s vocals, particularly at the beginning, that I don’t love. But there’s a thrilling four minute stretch of instrumental music, including a guitar solo from Holdsworth that is both jaw dropping and subtle at the same time, and a violin solo from Jobson, all over Wetton’s stellar bass playing and Bruford’s signature drumming, that makes it worth a listen.

Sadly, after some extensive touring, tensions in the band led to Wetton and Jobson “firing” Holdsworth, and Bruford also left. Rather than find a new guitarist, the remaining members brought in drummer Terry Bozzio, also from Frank Zappa’s band, and recorded Danger Money as a trio. It isn’t a bad album, and actually spawned a minor hit, “Nothing to Lose.” After a live album, Wetton and Jobson themselves disagreed on the future of the band, and they broke up. A couple of years later Wetton formed Asia, with Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes, which definitely sounded a lot like what U.K. might have sounded like if it tried for a more commercial sound.

Bruford took some of the songs that he had written for a second U.K. album and used them on his second solo album, the great One of a Kind (which also featured Holdsworth on guitar). There were a few Wetton/Jobson led reunions of U.K. over the years, featuring various drummers and guitarists, but the original lineup never got back together.

Sadly, both Wetton and Holdsworth died in 2017, which I commemorated here.