Archive for January, 2004

I hope you’ll join me and the Old 97’s family in sending out good thoughts, condolences and prayers to the Hammond family, over the loss of Murry’s father, Don Hammond, who passed away yesterday, January 28. Take care. More soon.

Now The WaPo chimes in too:

Old 97’s

Bands are often torn asunder by members who have different ideas of what the group should sound like. So far, the Old 97’s have escaped that fate, choosing instead to give equal time to guitarist and singer Rhett Miller’s gritty rock tastes and poppier instincts and bassist and singer Murry Hammond’s more countrified leanings.

At a sold-out 9:30 club Friday night, the appealingly scruffy Dallas band played a lengthy and fervent set that neatly combined the two styles into a satisfyingly organic, and at times mess-of-fun, whole. It was after midnight when the band came onstage and just before 2 a.m. when it left for the last time. In between, it sated the desire of rowdy fans that have had to wait a couple of years since the band last toured. (Miller, who recorded a solo album in 2002, has toured more recently.)

Opening with the aching “St. Ignatius,” Miller gave voice to despair, singing, “Someday when we’re older, deep in loneliness / Things we said today won’t matter, no one could care less.” That bit of darkness gave way to brasher tunes such as “Rollerskate Skinny” and such rave-ups as “King of All the World,” “Singular” and the caterwauling, punky-tonk “Doreen.” And in one of those “Aw, ain’t that nice” moments, he dedicated “Question” — a sweet song about getting engaged — to Brian and Heather, a presumably newly betrothed couple in the crowd. Hammond took lead vocals on alt-country fare including “W. TX Teardrops,” “Crash on the Barrelhead” and the exquisitely sad and lovely “Valentine.”

Despite their clearly different tastes, Miller and Hammond seem to be complements of each other. Along with drummer Philip Peeples and guitarist Ken Bethea, they produce a sturdy, impressive sound all their own. Soon the band will head to the studio to record a new album — its first since 2001’s “Satellite Rides” — and its strong songwriting along with a willingness to experiment and accommodate a variety of directions and interests almost ensures a favorable result. — Joe Heim

Yet another great review, this one from the Indianapolis Star:

concert review

Old 97’s strut some new stuff

• Where: The Vogue, 6259 N. College Ave.

• Bottom line: Old friends return to roots.

By David Lindquist

January 21, 2004

A feeling of renewed hope filled the Vogue nightclub Monday as the Old 97’s delivered a rollicking performance of roots-rock yarns.

Many observers assumed this band was history after singer-songwriter Rhett Miller issued a solo album in 2002. But the quartet is back together and kicking tail (despite some random rustiness heard in botched lyrics and misplayed notes).

The Old 97’s make music so spirited and polished, you might think you’re catching the Beatles circa 1965 — had the Fab Four hailed from Dallas instead of Liverpool and been followers of Johnny Cash, not skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan.

To underscore the comparison, Miller captivated the crowd with an unplugged rendition of “Question,” his tender and melodic cousin of John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.”

Miller also has looks to rival a young Paul McCartney and the charismatic insight of author J.D. Salinger, who happened to inspire the “Catcher in the Rye”-themed “Rollerskate Skinny” from the band’s last studio album.

At the same time, if the Old 97’s are so good, why aren’t they superstars? The quick answer is that the band’s idiom of country-meets-rock- Americana never caught on with the mainstream. Artists such as Lucinda Williams and the Jayhawks have made brilliant albums, but they have yet to earn a platinum sales award.

Miller, bass player Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples recorded five albums from 1994 to 2001. Thanks to sustained support from one mid-level radio station, WTTS-FM (92.3), Indianapolis ranks as an Old 97’s town.

A new album is expected later this year, and the band previewed four compositions on Monday. Miller sang one dark rocker about restless travel and a breezy tune that seems to be titled “Bloomington.” The latter, which recounts an afternoon spent with a pretty girl in a park, should be a crowd-pleaser in any number of same-named cities.

It was a rarity to see and hear Bethea sing lead. After revealing a case of nerves through awkward and rambling banter, he let rip a self-deprecating ditty: “I’m sittin’ here suckin’ on my cavity, thinking of things you used to say to me — tragedy.”

Hammond — the band’s winning X-factor because of his ability to yodel and generally summon that high, lonesome sound — unveiled “Smoker,” a jaunty tale suggestive of They Might Be Giants in a European folk mood.

Still, for all the twangy adornments and Miller’s recent penchant for polite pop, the live 97’s galvanize into a rough-and-ready crew. Anyone on hand for the final sprint of “Barrier Reef,” “Big Brown Eyes” and “Timebomb” will tell you that.

So here’s what you’ve been missing – or better yet, seeing – on the Old 97’s current tour. From the Chicago Sun Times:

Old 97’s

January 19, 2004


In the big picture, the Old 97’s weren’t really gone that long. Only three years passed between the band’s last album and its return to Chicago, and in the interim, ringleader Rhett Miller was a regular presence on local stages and radio waves.

All the same, fans treated the band’s Saturday show at Metro like an event. Well ahead of the date they snapped up tickets or clamored for extras in online forums; come showtime, they lined up around the block in bitter cold.

Anyone who thought all of this a bit excessive should have seen the band in action. On the third night of a 10-date tour that precedes their return to the recording studio — in Woodstock, where they’ll track tunes for an album on New West Records — the Texas-bred four-piece didn’t disappoint.

They also didn’t waste any time. One swaggering lick from lead guitarist Ken Bethea launched the band into “Victoria,” and the crowd into a lusty sing-along that mostly drowned out Miller; over the next 90-plus minutes, the last echoes of one tune barely died away before drummer Philip Peeples was rapping out a rhythm for the next. The late-night set — which started after 1 a.m. and didn’t end until nearly 3 — drew from every corner of the band’s catalog but emphasized songs from the band’s beloved 1995 disc “Wreck Your Life” and its follow-up, “Too Far To Care.”

Not all of that was flawless, of course; the 97’s naturally showed some rust. Almost off the top Miller flubbed a few lines of “Rollerskate Skinny,” and later Peeples rushed the intro of bass man Murry Hammond’s Johnny Cash cover, “Let the Train Blow the Whistle.” But nobody was too picky, so they just grinned and blasted past the rough spots.

Frankly, the time off — which Miller used to make a solo record, while he and others explored such side projects as marriage and kids — has done the band a world of good. Although 1999’s “Fight Songs” and 2001’s “Satellite Rides” blazed modest radio inroads and made Miller a geek-rock poster boy, they lacked the spark of the band’s beloved “Wreck Your Life” — a disc that launched both the band and Bloodshot Records to wider acclaim.

Saturday’s set included plenty of references to those early days. Miller introduced “Dressing Room Walls” with an anecdote about writing it in the basement at Lounge Ax, and he needled Jon Langford before banging out an aptly rowdy version of his “Over the Cliff.”

Fueled by their second-home affinity for our fair city, the nostalgia was nice. But warm and fuzzy only goes so far, so the best part of the electric evening was its promise for the future. Judging by the few tunes the 97’s debuted — including an uncharacteristic riff-rocker called “Smokers” from Hammond, Miller’s low-key lament “The Moonlight” and especially the signature witty wordplay of “Won’t Be Home No More” — the recharged band’s horizons look bright.

The Old 97’s have just added a January 14 Dallas show at the legendary Sons of Hermann Hall, to their upcoming January mini-tour. So the Dallas show, which will come at the end of several days of “hard rehearsals for the new record” officially kicks off the countdown to the next Old 97’s CD release, now planned for this Summer on New West Records. FWIW, along with the crazies over at Bloodshot Records, New West is THE premier label for all your Roots Rock, Southern Rock, and your alt-country listening needs. You say you like them Drive By Truckers? Them boys in Slobberbone? Billy Joe Shaver? The Flatlanders? Well now you can call ’em all label-mates of the Old 97’s.

The 97’s will be cut the album’s basic tracks in Woodstock, NY, with finishing touches applied in San Diego, and on the technical side, the guys have signed one of the great Rockabilly knob-meisters to helm the boards as producer and engineer for their upcoming release. In fact, Murry calls him the “king of rockabilly recording in the U.S..” He’s Mark Neill, and you can hear his work on wax from Big Sandy, The Paladins, Deke Dickerson, Rip Carson, and as producer on the last couple of Los Straitjackets CD’s. Neill’s reputation is that of a Rockabilly craftsman with an unmatched store of knowledge and and skill in recording techniques down through the decades. So does all this mean what I think it means? Will the next 97’s disc see a return to the amps-at-10 twang of Wreck Your Life and Too Far To Care? Stay tuned!

In other news from the 97’s family, Grey DeLisle’s next Sugar Hill record, Graceful Ghost, is due March 14th, just in time for SXSW. In fact Murry will be playing with her there, on a Sugar Hill bill with Alison Moorer and Garrison Starr. Sort of off the subject, Grey must be one of the hardest working unseen women in show business. Anyway – note to self – there is a definite possibility that a great little bar band from Dallas might also be playing in Austin that very same SXSW week… ahem.

Finally, on December 28, Newsday’s music critic Rafer Guzmán showed curious timing but excellent taste when he named Rhett Miller’s 2002 release The Instigator as one of the Top 10 releases for 2003. Says Mr. Guzmán:

6. Rhett Miller, “The Instigator” (Elektra). For his solo foray, the leader of the Dallas-based Old 97’s removes his alt-country Stetson and dons the cap of a simple tunesmith. The result: 12 small but beautifully cut gems, full of winking lyrics and bright harmonies. Along with an appealingly earnest voice, Miller has an eye for romance, and he finds it in the oddest places: on Chicago’s El train, in the letters of Richard Wagner, with a bespectacled science teacher. These songs don’t want to set the world on fire, just keep it nice and toasty.

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment, but… uhm… what about last year?