"They are great songwriters," says Was. "And they're at their peak… They're creating an identity that's unique from anything that came before them. You can see their creativity flowing without second-guessing themselves."
Of course, as in any OCMS production, live or recorded, the lyrics are only a part of the package. On Tennessee Pusher, the instrumentation is front and center. And Don Was wouldn't have had it any other way.
"The first time I heard Old Crow Medicine Show, my friend played me a mix tape of their previous records, and my first thought, was 'I wanta be in this band.' It wasn't like 'I wish I could get my hands on 'em and mold 'em into somethin' else.' It was 'I can totally relate to what these guys are doing.' I didn't want to change 'em. I just wanted to be around while they were makin' a record."
The production of Tennessee Pusher ran just about that way. After a few rehearsals, Was cut the album live in the studio. Joining the band's regulars were session drummer Jim Keltner, who's contributed to albums by everyone from the Plastic Ono Band to Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello, and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, who weighed in on Hammond B3 Organ.
"We didn't go for a live sound in a sonic sense," Was says. "It wasn't like 'We want to go for a lot of bleed-through from the drums in the vocal mike.' It wasn't like that. It has to do with the interplay. The spontaneity of it. [OCMS is] kind of like a jazz group. They play it differently every single time. There's a rough arrangement. The song form may be the same and it may not be the same. But the little musical nuances will be different every single take.
"A lot of the records I have made were with people who had achieved great things 20, 30 years before I met 'em. And they have to carry that baggage... Whether it's Iggy Pop carrying the legacy of the Stooges. Or Bob Dylan carrying the legacy of Blonde on Blonde. Or the Rolling Stones," he adds with a chuckle. "People are aware that they also made Let It Bleed. Their new albums will be measured to that standard. It's really refreshing to be in the studio with people who are just hitting that level for the first time."
With the album in the can and the band doing dates in Europe, you might ask Secor how the old-timey vibe translates overseas. He'll answer with characteristic wry humor.
"Well European audiences are different, sure. It takes a little bit more to get them over the edge... It's harder to find Rednecks, and my music is very much embedded in Redneck behavior. And I think all American Folk is reliant on an older country way of being. If you don't have tent revivals, how are you going to know how to act?
"But I really like playing in Europe," he continues, "because I feel like when it gets all rockin' it's like a soccer game. When we play in places of Celtic origin we can get closer to that. When we play in Ireland. When we play in Glasgow or Aberdeen. If you ever play in front of Welsh people, you just get em' goin'. Sometimes it's spontaneous. They just break into song. And when they break, they fuckin' break into song. It makes me grin from ear to ear to see what "CC Ryder" can do to Glaswegians."
Talk to Ketch Secor long enough, and chances are Bob Dylan will work his way into the conversation. You get the feeling that if Secor has a guiding spirit, Bob just might be the one. And as Ketch muses about Europe, Dylan is on his mind.
"When you take the show over to England," Secor says, "You can't help think about Bob playing Manchester Free Trade Hall. When I play in those towns where I know Bob really shook it up, I can't help but think about the climate of the antagonism that was going on between the young folkies and neotraditionalists all battling it out for the right of folk music to stay acoustic. I think about that stuff a lot. And I think what Bob did is more rockin' than any Woodstock -- to go blow some eardrums out in England.
"There's a certain amount of preaching and tent revival in what we do. There's some snake handlin' goin' on too. Music is about gettin' fired up. Music is fiery and passionate. When it's evil, it's pure evil. When it's righteous, it's purely righteous. And sometimes it's too hot to handle. You just gotta share the wealth."