The New England Americana Festival sells on its web site a cute little shirt with a wagon wheel on it, right smack in the middle of a red circle with a line through it: This here’s a no “Wagon Wheel” zone, festival organizers proudly announce.
Yet another shot across Old Crow Medicine Show’s bow. Lately, it’s been open season on “Wagon Wheel,” which has become the acoustic musician’s “Freebird,” one of the very few songs that people actually know well enough to find it funny to request. (In the bluegrass world, “Tennessee Stud” might be another equivalent. In hip hop, it’s probably “Baby Got Back” or “99 Problems.”)
Thus, musicians “hate” it. Hipster bar owners “ban” it.
But everybody would love to write a song played in every honky tonk in Nashville 365 days a year, a song covered by that Hootie guy in a popular enough way that it went number one on the country charts nine years after Old Crow first released it on their third album, O.C.M.S., in 2004.
But that whole idea that Dylan “co-wrote it” is ridiculous. Old Crow’s Critter Fuqua had a bootleg of the mumbled demo Dylan did as part of creating the soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (the same sessions that created “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”), played the tune for Ketch Secor when the pair were at Exeter, and Ketch wrote all the verses and was playing it for about a decade (sometimes on the streets of Portland, busking), before they recorded it.
The verses are kind of important to the song’s success (and at least a portion of that success led to Secor’s ability to buy a joint on an island in Casco Bay). Hell, Taylor Swift uses the same chord progression for the chorus to “Mean.” Secor even switched the order of the chorus.
And here we go again. Dylan apparently asked Secor to take a crack at another unfinished bit from those Billy the Kid sessions, and the result is “Sweet Amarillo,” the third song off of the brand-new Remedy, and a hell of a tune. With a nod to John Prine’s “Paradise,” it’s simple enough, like “Wagon Wheel,” to be instantly covered (a I-IV-V waltz in G, folks—give it a go, it’s a blast to sing), and the chorus is made for drunk people in bars.
So’s the whole album, really. The band’s seventh (to match their now seven members: Hello, mando/keyboard/drummer Cory Younts), it’s organized in the manner you’ve come to expect: a few good footstompers, a pretty pop tune, a sad anti-war effort, and a couple bits of silliness. And hyper male—in a good-old-boy country way that’s mostly charming in opposition to the pickups-girls-beers pop country stuff radio-Nashville’s currently churning out.
Only the opening “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” is troublesome, sounding an awful lot like Tennessee Pusher’s “Alabama High-Test” and the story of a woman who, apparently, just couldn’t bear to not fuck one more time her condemned-to-die man (she’s so loud in her exultations there’s some concern she’ll cause a prison riot). And the hangman to boot. No, really: