Calling Old Crow Medicine Show a bluegrass band is really a bit of a stretch, since they actually sound more like a prewar jug and string band filtered through Uncle Tupelo than they do, say, Bill Monroe, and the group's attitude and themes are all rock & roll, which gives the band, when it's at its best, a wonderfully fresh vitality with a little bit of wounded cowboy angel pathos tossed in for good measure. Old Crow Medicine Show's previous two albums for Nettwerk Records, 2004's Old Crow Medicine Show and 2006's Big Iron World, were both produced by Gillian Welch's creative partner, David Rawlings, who had an instinctive feel for the group's ragged glory take on what a string band whose members listen to Nirvana could sound like in the 21st century. For Old Crow Medicine Show's third Nettwerk album, Tennessee Pusher, they've elected to go with producer Don Was, who, although he follows the same basic sound template as Rawlings, manages to take the edgy energy of the band down a slight notch, which isn't a good thing at all. Not that Tennessee Pusher is a huge fall off from Big Iron World, it's just not a great leap forward and upward, although there are plenty of striking tracks, including the perfectly voiced "Methamphetamine" (co-written by Rawlings and the band's lead singer, Ketcham Secor); the haunting and eerie "Motel in Memphis"; and the bright, radio-ready first single, "Caroline." The one cover here, an effective version of Blind Alfred Reed's "Lift Him Up," is also well worth noting. The drop in energy from Big Iron World is so slight that most fans of the group either won't care or won't notice, but one can't help but wonder what this set of songs (and there are some really good ones here) would have sounded like with Rawlings producing. Old Crow Medicine Show have the musicianship, songwriting chops, and creative vision and attitude to be something really special, and truthfully, they already are, as long as they don't paint themselves into a corner.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett