Roarin' in the twenties 

Step right this way with Old Crow Medicine Show

Nostalgia cycles are getting shorter all the time, to the point where musically speaking you have your choice of which decade you’d like to go back and wallow in on any weekend night in any halfway large city. Style points from ‘70s and early ‘80s are there for the cribbing from any classic-rock station or in any used record bin, and most people in their late twenties and thirties today have absorbed so much classic-rock crap that playing it seems as easy as falling off a log. It’s also pretty easy to walk into a club these days and imagine what your parents were all fired up about the night they went home and conceived you. Scary. Try it some time.

American popular music from the 1920s (somewhere between grandparents and great-grandparents on the insemination timetable of today’s average Independent reader, whom demographic studies have shown to be about 39 years old) doesn’t get quite as much play these days. At least not since the Squirrel Nut Zippers craze blazed a trail of inchoate flapperism across the country five years ago. But it’s a decade in which the Old Crow Medicine Show seem to have set up housekeeping more or less permanently. Since trickling together out of North Carolina and the eastern Tennessee hill country in 1998, the six-piece (now based in Nashville) has begun to evolve naturally along a continuum within their decade of choice, moving from pre-bluegrass Appalachian string music to what fiddler/vocalist Ketcham Secor describes as a “more 1920s urban, black blues flavor.” This progression, Secord told a Nashville weekly paper in an interview from April last year, reflects the group’s ongoing attempt “to give a more well-rounded look at what music was like before the Depression, before bluegrass, before the blues became Chicago- and New York-influenced.”

Not that the Old Crow Medicine Show necessarily plans on sticking around 1925 forever. Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose ancient-looking films are built primarily around vocabulary units of ‘20s filmmaking long since discarded, likes to say that he’s hung around in the ‘20s longer than the ‘20s hung around in the ‘20s. If the Old Crow Medicine Show decides to leave the fertile fields of the ‘20s behind and move on to, say, the ‘30s, it will be a perfectly natural progression.

“The most important thing,” Secor told the Nashville Scene, “is that we not become a greatest-hits package of the 1920s, rather to take something that came before and make it feel current, make it feel necessary.”

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