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Old Crow Medicine Show

Since getting their start busking on street corners back in 1998, Old Crow Medicine Show have emerged as one of the most potent and influential forces in American roots music. Over the last quarter-century, the two-time Grammy Award-winning band has brought their sublimely raucous live show to rapturous audiences around the world and toured with the likes of Willie Nelson and John Prine, all while amassing an acclaimed catalog that includes such standouts as their double platinum hit single “Wagon Wheel.” Arriving as the Nashville-based six-piece gears up to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Jubilee finds Old Crow doubling down on their commitment to creating roots music that bears an undeniable urgency. “In a lot of people’s minds folk music seems to be relegated to a place of supposed purity, but we’ve always wanted our folk music to be the soundtrack to real living rather than something stuck behind the glass in a museum,” says frontman Ketch Secor. “We’d much prefer to smash that glass and take those instruments back to the street corners, maybe break some strings and bleed on them a bit. To us music works best when you sing it loud and hard and lusty until your throat gets sore—it’s meant to hurt when it comes out right.”

Old Crow’s eighth studio LP, Jubilee serves as something of a companion piece to Paint This Town—a 2022 release that marked their first time cutting an album with band members Jerry Pentecost, Mike Harris, and Mason Via. “We made Paint This Town before we’d even played any shows with this lineup, so it felt right to get back into the studio with our new partners-in-crime after we’d been out on the road and felt all greased-up,” says Secor. Like its predecessor, Jubilee finds Old Crow producing alongside Matt Ross-Spang (Drive-By Truckers, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, The Mountain Goats) and recording at their own Hartland Studios in East Nashville. Featuring guest appearances from legendary soul singer Mavis Staples and singer/songwriter Sierra Ferrell, the result is a wildly expansive body of work encompassing everything from jug-band tunes to Irish folk songs to exultant gospel jams, each touched with Old Crow’s dazzling musicality and poetic yet powerfully trenchant storytelling.

After kicking off with “Ballad of Jubilee Jones” (a soul-stirring anthem of resilience for the working people of the world), Jubilee slips into tender reminiscence on “Miles Away”—a sweetly reflective track graced with guest vocals from Old Crow co-founder Willie Watson. “We hadn’t recorded with Willie in 12 years, and it made sense to bring him back for a song that has to do with seeing old friends again,” says Secor. “It’s about looking back on the past and accepting that people sometimes part ways, and yet time can mend things. There could be a scar in the earth, then a few years go by and now it’s a Walmart parking lot or a garden.” Co-written by Secor and bluegrass virtuoso Molly Tuttle, “Miles Away” unfolds in delicate banjo runs and luminous fiddle melodies before building to a sweeping string section at the bridge, lending even greater poignancy to Old Crow’s warmly dispensed wisdom (“So if you run into some lost friend or lover/And find only reticence remains/Grab the saddle horn and just throw your body over/Don’t let the past hold the reins”).

While songs like “Miles Away” embody a bittersweet gravity, much of Jubilee harnesses the unruly exuberance that Old Crow unfailingly channel into their live show. On “Keel Over And Die,” for instance, the band delivers a frenetic and freewheeling love song whose lyrics endlessly tilt from ecstatic to macabre. “It’s one of those just-getting-over-divorce songs where you’ve finally found someone you’re crazy about but nothing else is right in your life, so you can only express joy in death metaphors,” says Secor. “I think I write songs like that because I’m a fan of Shane MacGowan and all the antics of bands who use traditional music as a soundtrack for some kind of brawl, whether it’s a sporting match between cross-town rivals or people picking a fight in an alley over love.” Later, on “I Want It Now,” Old Crow unleash a gloriously sordid and dance-ready party song spotlighting their knack for fantastically unhinged wordplay (e.g., “Freight-train-hopping, purple-pill popping, bluegrass-bopping/You know what I need, I want it now”). “On every album we ever make, Old Crow tends to put revelers, corn whiskey, and the cops all together in a stretch of woods somewhere,” says Secor. “‘I Want It Now’ is the latest offering in that 25-year batch of debauchery; it’s your typical story of a hillbilly love triangle and a party that just won’t quit.”

On “One Drop” (featuring Mavis Staples), Jubilee closes out with its most rejoiceful track, a spirit lifting gospel number propelled by triumphant harmonies and bustling hand percussion. As Staples, Secor, and Pentecost trade off vocals, “One Drop” speaks to the potential for profound change in times of overwhelming darkness and disillusionment (“It takes one step before the saints go marching/It takes one march before we’ve got a movement marching in/It takes all kind of saints in step together/‘Fore we stand in union hand in hand”). “‘One Drop’ is typical of any Old Crow gospel jam in that we leave the deity TBD, so that you can fill in whatever feels right to you,” says Secor. “We took some inspiration from the Pete Seeger School of Theatrics, where songs of a spiritual persuasion become a rallying cry. One line builds on the line before it, and it ends up as a sort of equational transaction in which we’re trying to figure out our way to peace.”

In keeping with the sociopolitical consciousness of Paint This Town (an album that confronted such complex matters as country music’s thorny racial politics), Jubilee also brings Old Crow’s incisive perspective to tracks like “Allegheny Lullabye”—a sorrowful yet fiery meditation on systemic poverty and lack of opportunity in regions like Appalachia (“With a hand on the bottle and one on the wheel, won’t be slave to the iron and steel/The choices are no choice at all, just the flipping of a coin/It’s factory, gas station, or join”). “I wanted to have a song about the pervasiveness of hopelessness, which to me is one of the defining factors of life in America in 2023,” says Secor, who drew inspiration from Sam Quinones’s Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic in penning the lyrics to “Allegheny Lullabye.” “I know a lot of people in towns like we’re describing, where there’s basically a three-track system: you can work at the factory and get nowhere, work at the gas station and get nowhere, or join the Army or the rat race. To me those options aren’t enough for the region that gave us songs like ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’, and I’m mad as hell at the elected officials who are doing nothing to change that opportunity-distribution load.”

As Secor reveals, Old Crow’s boundless passion for imbuing a timely vitality into traditional music has played a major part in the band’s longevity. “Being the type of songwriters and performers that we’ve always been, we tend toward the topical material and what’s going on right now—the issues currently faced by our species, our country, our beloved Southlands,” he says. “I think the artist’s job is to dip their quill into the reservoir of the now, and for Old Crow that reservoir is deep: we might end up pulling up some Lead Belly colors, some Gene Austin colors or some Paul Robeson. So as long as these things keep happening in our world, and as long as banjos are around to be plucked and fiddles are there for us to drag a bow across, you can bet we’ll still be interested in making this kind of music. At this point it’s just our second nature.” 

Folk Family Revival

Armed with a sound that mixes the rootsy stomp of the southern states with the trippy swoon of the West Coast, Folk Family Revival make music for rock clubs and rodeos, dive bars and honky-tonks, or campfires and cantinas.

A throwback to a time when southern rock and psychedelic music dominated the airwaves, they may be best described as a psychedelic folk-country rock and roll band but they’re not wild about labeling their sound. They’d rather let the music do the talking.

After releasing their debut album in 2011, the guys hit the Texas circuit hard, opening shows for legends like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Wanda Jackson. At times called a country band, the young group used the label as motivation to push their boundaries and develop a diverse yet distinctive set. Soon their sound was reflective of a variety of genres. Some nights they’d have a blues rock feel and others an americana or folk vibe. This wide-ranging experimentation and push to progress helped fuel Water Walker.

“I’m a huge Dylan fan,” says Mason Lankford, “and I’ve noticed from his live recordings that a song never sounds the same way twice. We’ve always been really into that idea, even as we’ve grown. We want the song to sound different than it did last week. We’ve been changing our songs every day for the last five years, and once we get into the studio, we’ll think about which version worked best and we’ll record it that way.”

When it came time to record Water Walker, Folk Family Revival decided to team up again with Jeffrey Armstreet, the same producer who helped them kick off their career with 2011’s Unfolding. The pace inside the studio was mostly laid-back. Whenever the guys were in Magnolia, the band’s Texas hometown, they were usually working with Armstreet, slowly piecing together a collection of poetic songs ranging in topics from politics, faith, power, love, and the modern world. They’d start by tracking the songs live, capturing the groove and spontaneity of their live shows. Sure, it was work… but it was also a good hang.

If there’s anyone who knows the value of a good hang, it’s the guys in Folk Family Revival. Over the years, a community of musicians who’ve passed through the Magnolia area and spent time at the band’s house have come to be known as “The Family”. Also the case with new friends or fans, the ever expanding “Family” can be explained by the camaraderie that occurs when folks relate to the charitable spirit of the band or their infectious sound. You get the sense that these guys just enjoy good company and good tunes… and they seem to be a magnet for both.

“We can (all) do more if there’s more people working together,” says Mason. “We’ve met a lot of people since we released Unfolding, and that’s one of the reasons Water Walker sounds so different. We’re better players, better communicators, better friends. We’ve also learned to relax. When we did Unfolding, our producer and friends used to say we were kids who sounded like old souls. Always wanting to try new things and be willing to change, we started getting in touch with our youthful side. We’re still serious (and obviously a little more mature) … but there’s a looseness to the new record that wasn’t there before.”