Pigeon Forge — a Tennessee getaway known for its sprawling theme parks and outlet stores nestled on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains — isn’t listed as a collaborator on the Old Crow Medicine Show’s fiery new album ‘Paint This Town’ .
But maybe it should be.
“When you walk through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, you see the future of Old Crow Medicine Show,” said Ketch Secor, the band’s frontman and co-founder. “You look at people who are going to spend $32.50 on an Old Crow ticket and stick a sticker on their truck.
“He’s the one I want to see throwing money into the tip jar. They’re hard working people. We have a responsibility – if you have that many fiddles and banjos in your band – to endear you of such people.”
Secor and company decamped to drummer Jerry Pentecost’s Sevier County cabin for songwriting sessions that laid the groundwork for “Paint This Town,” a heartbreaking album that tells stories ranging from rural anarchy to rampant addiction, racial erasure on Music Row and 19th century abolition.
“Paint This Town” hits shelves and streaming services Friday via ATO Records; Old Crow is celebrating album release day this week with an intimate one-night show at Third Man Records’ Blue Room.
Cut at the Old Crow clubhouse in East Nashville, “Paint This Town” offers an uncompromising collection of time travel stories fueled by a creative freedom gained after nearly 25 years as a band.
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“It’s like we’ve finally become the band we started out to be,” said Secor, who went from street corners in downtown Nashville to Grand Ole Opry membership with Old Crow. . He continued: “I don’t think we realized we had as much freedom of choice as we did a few years ago.”
A clubhouse album
For “Paint This Town,” Old Crow exercised their artistic freedom from inside the band’s vast “Hartland” cave, where the band tracks, rehearses, and produces much of what fans hear (or see, in the case of the online show born out of the Old Crow pandemic variety show “Hartland Hootenanny”).
Inside Hartland, lyric sheets line the floor of the open rehearsal room; the band’s awards — including the 2015 Grammy for Best Folk Album — are displayed in a display case that lines one wall of an adjacent living room, while floor-to-ceiling flyers cover another wall. Around the corner from a studio control space, the band staged another room with memorabilia and yesteryear props for the “Hootenanny” set.
Previously a tool and die factory that Old Crow took over in 2020, Pentecost described the space as “magical” from day one.
“Everyone put a lot of work into this place,” Pentecost said. “Everyone is proud to be able to call it home. … I think that’s the energy and the vibe that we brought to it.”
And at the clubhouse, Pentecost has found his niche as the percussionist in the longtime string band. Hailing from Nashville and active in the local music scene, Pentecost joined Old Crow in late 2019 as the band’s first dedicated drummer.
With Old Crow at a creative crossroads, Pentecost has drawn a hyphen marking the band’s new creative chapter, Secor said.
“Things had changed a lot [since the band’s last album, 2018’s ‘Volunteer’]”, Secor said. “We broke up with our longtime manager. We lost Critter [Fuqua], who was our longtime banjo player. There was an opportunity to do two things: appease the crowd and the team and keep doing it. Maybe move on to casinos, that sort of thing. Or reinvent it, reinvigorate it. And that decision coincided with Jerry’s call.”
Secor added: “[He] brought a full head of steam to the locomotive and it kept rolling down the rails.”
For Pentecost, bringing full-time drumming to a band known for its high-flying double bass, banjo and fiddle playing has allowed the musician to carve out a space unique to Old Crow.
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“That’s all I’ve ever done is play drums,” Pentecost said, adding, “It’s part of the whole revitalization… I’m really proud of the work we’ve done here. I think you can hear the energy and the musicality.”
“Paint This Town”
Listeners immediately hear the result of Secor’s self-proclaimed revitalization: the opening title track “Paint This Town” channels an autobiographical taste of roots rock fueled by restless rebellion.
Embracing a punk ethos – where the teenage protagonist decorates his small town with signs of anarchy – “Paint This Town” signals an American truth to come on the 12-song album. The group straddles a line of historical fascination (“John Brown’s Dream”) with social reflection (“New Mississippi Flag”), past empathy (“Gloryland”) and continued environmental degradation (“Used To Be A Mountain”) .
Real, fictional or somewhere in between, Old Crow tells stories about everyday heroes, Secor said.
“I like people who act as signposts for others,” Secor said. “I like people who can be both a symbol and a reality…I meet people all the time that I have the choice to write a song about or not to write a song about. There are so many fascinating and interesting characters in this city and all cities.”
DeFord is due
And Pentecost isn’t the only one behind the “Paint This Town” kit. He takes lead vocals on “DeFord Rides Again,” an impassioned song about DeFord Bailey, a pioneering black country music artist shunned more than half a century ago by an industry that continues to struggle for equality.
Co-written by Pentecost with Secor and guitar wizard Molly Tuttle, the song nods to Bailey’s 1920s fox-chasing harmonica before turning to the years when Music Row closed its doors. to the interpreter.
Pentecost sings, “…in Greenwood you’ll find a four-foot-nine lot / To our town’s disgrace they whitewashed her name / And for that kind of sin there’s no excuse / Blow, Blow DeFord, Blow / Play that ‘Pan Am.'”
Last week, Old Crow teamed up with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Bailey’s grandson, Carlos DeFord Bailey, for an interactive harmonica lesson.
“It’s a matter of perspective,” Pentecost said. “We’re talking about the Opry’s first African-American star. I have a feeling if you ask nine out of 10 country fans, they’ll be like, ‘Who?’
“For an individual like me – I don’t know if I’ll ever be an Opry star – but trying to live a similar life and be an African American in the world of country music, it’s important to acknowledge this legacy and these challenges.”
Like much of the album, Pentecost said he hopes the “why” of telling Bailey’s story sits firmly at the forefront of what fans – those who navigate the streets of Pigeon Forge and beyond – hear on “Paint This Town”.
“All you can do is hope it translates,” Pentecost said.
Watch an Old Crow show
- Friday: The band plays at Third Man’s Blue Room in Nashville. More information at crowdmedicine.com.
- June 25: Old Crow opens the Caverns Amphitheater to full capacity with a headlining show at the Grundy County site. More information on thecaverns.com.