Old Crow Medicine Show Presents Winning Lineup at Roots N Blues Festival
When describing a revision Old Crow Medicine Show lineup, bandleader Ketch Secor heads to the dugout, his lineup card and a simile many Missourians immediately understand.
“I feel a bit like Whitey Herzog,” he said, citing the manager who oversaw the St. Louis Cardinals’ success in the 1980s, including a title run in 1982. put together the best team – it’s a pennant-winning team.”
Bringing together players with deep and wide-ranging skills, this year Secor and Old Crow Medicine Show released one of their most dynamic records to date, “Paint This Town”. Public Roots N Blues will no doubt witness another of the string band’s successful road games when they perform at the festival next weekend.
Building a “safe haven” for sound
By convening the first iteration of the Old Crow Medicine Show in the late 1990s, Secor entered the “Lazy Susan of time”, he said. The lineup rotates often – old friends and former collaborators include stellar musicians Critter Fuqua, Willie Watson, Gill Landry and Dave Rawlings.
“The lineup was smooth, just hook up the best pickers and singers available at the time, and if you had a car, that was a plus”, Secor wrote in an essay on the group’s website. “Even today, Old Crow remains a collective, borrowing from the unique talents of an ever-changing cast.”
Each range revolution seems to deliver its own success. Old Crow Medicine Show has won a few Grammys, explored the endless twists and turns of bluegrass and – for better or worse, depending on who’s speaking – set a modern standard when Secor performed Bob Dylan’s unfinished song “Wagon Wheel “.
“Paint This Town” arrives, distilling and binding the many facets of Old Crow into a colorful unity. The record rocks heartbeat circuits and delivers jaw-dropping bluegrass with apocalyptic warnings.
The current roster includes Secor on mic with unlimited instruments on hand, Morgan Jahnig (bass), Cory Younts (mandolin, keyboards, drums), Jerry Pentecost (drums, mandolin), Mike Harris (slide guitar, guitar, mandolin , banjo, dobro) and Mason Via (guitar, guitjo).
Listeners expect bands to brag about how much they’ve invested in a new record. Blood sweat tears. This Old Crow programming Actually knows what it means to consecrate one of these elemental forces. “Paint This Town” was recorded at the band’s Hartland Studio, an East Nashville joint they renovated as part of the process.
“Part of the new line’s team-building exercises was hammering drywall,” Secor said. “And so there’s a bit of drywall to this album, some of that sweat equity that made us work together and make a great record.”
Finishing the walls, and the sound they contain, offered the group something like a home and a “safe haven” in which to weather the pandemic winds, “to ride out the storm” in solidarity, Secor said.
This transfer of energy is heard in the music of “Paint This Town” and, now, is reflected in the group’s relationships, Secor said.
“It was so much fun. It was like making a record in a treehouse – everyone climbing the ladder with a singsong expression,” he said.
Still, he said Old Crow would find its true calling after taking this record on the road: “I think our next record will be even better because we came out and sold it.”
On the road
The roads that split America, as a means of bringing Americans together, look a little different for Secor after a “20-year world tour.”
“I’ve seen a lot of things grow,” he said. “There are a lot of fields that now have gas stations from the beginning. And even then I thought, ‘There are too many gas stations in the fields. “”
No matter where the road led, Secor could trust certain cultural expectations, he said. The shifting fault lines of our politics now leave him without that certainty.
“The role of folk music is more important than ever, in expressing a kind of unity that the left or the right might say they want, but I don’t know if that’s the case,” he said. “And I don’t care, because I find that music brings us all together, no matter what.”
When folk music delivers on its promise, reaching the hearts of strangers as they sing, it raises a benevolent middle finger to politicians and those in power, Secor added.
“I’ll show you what populism looks like – it’s done with a violin,” he said.
This mark of scuffed populism is felt throughout “Paint This Town”. With its swelling opening bars, easy-as-Sunday groove, and back-pew harmonies, “Gloryland” is a piece of “divine-less gospel music,” Secor said, the genre he loves to write.
“I sing a lot of bluegrass songs that might mention Jesus — bluegrass songs do that great. But Old Crow songs never do,” he said. “We tend to take a more polytheistic approach to the pulpit. … I tend to steer it towards a more unitary view.”
Due to a musical debt to Bob Dylan in the mid-’70s, the song existed for several years before making the record permanent, Secor said.
“Sometimes you write a song and then it takes a change of wind to make the song relevant,” he added.
So “Gloryland” is more than a modern spiritual; it’s the cry of a psalmist who has watched a million fellow Americans die of COVID-19 and asks the gods if they can — or should — show mercy.
“It seemed like a good time to have a song that asks the question, ‘If we really had to be sitting there at the pearly gates, would they let us in? “said Secor.
For a band whose back catalog praises unions, cares about Karl Rove, and seriously considers meth damage, “Used to Be a Mountain” seems like a logical musical step. His breathless bluegrass will have crowds chanting verses borrowed from a 21st century book of Revelation:
There was a mountain here There was a river so clear we could swim to the bottom There was a heart, there was a soul, but I guess we forgot them
The song represents an ode to regions “perpetually” stripped of their natural resources, Secor said, which sometimes leads to expressions of despair through opioids and other silent killers.
“I don’t think I’m done singing songs about it…and I’m confident that my sisters and brothers in the roots music scene will also continue to bring in new concepts, ideas just to uplift these Americans. who work hard and who have been a sort of sacrificial lamb for” the industry, he said.
From Old Crow’s perspective, those who are unlucky – or quite short on time – are not merely fodder for folk music, but fellow travelers. Part of the team.
The band’s story “includes every star we chased, every fan who followed our chase, and every musician who chased it,” Secor wrote in his essay. “The journey that began in a Volvo station wagon on the Canadian border in the fall of 1998 continues to unfold in ways unimaginable. Our exploration of the continent’s heritage in song simply continues to produce. Until that vein is exploited, we will probably continue to dig in. And it will probably take a long time.
Old Crow Medicine Show will perform on the MU Health Care stage at 5:45 p.m. on Sunday, October 9. To learn more about the festival, visit https://rootsnbluesfestival.com/.
Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.