Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m sorry about the long delay in new news on the Old 97’s. But since it’s been a while, there’s plenty to report. In this edition: New records, new photos, new shows, new wives, new suits, new Rancheros, and… an alien invasion? Let’s hit the pics first.

The Old 97’s flew home from to Texas after their July 18 Tonight Show performance, and put on some scorching summer shows in Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Many many cameras were in attendance and the resulting photos have turned up all over the web. The URL’s?

Speaking of pics, one Rhett Miller goes noticeably upscale, in a fashion shoot on page 108 of the new Rolling Stone (the “HOT” issue – R.S. 108), dressed in ahem… Prada and Hugo Boss.

And what’s up with the Ranchero Brothers? (For the uninitiated, the Rancheros are Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond in an acoustic, Everley-ish alter-ego of the Old 97’s.) The long-running saga of the Rancheros’ debut album continues. Though recorded in early 2000, the album’s producer Hammond had a chance to mix just a handful of the eighteen tracks recorded by the duo. Among those is “In The Satellite Rides A Star,” the namesake to Satellite Rides. (Check out the “Sounds” page for an extended excerpt). The remainder sit unmixed on the hard drive of an ailing computer. What will it take to get the album finished? How about a software update, days of uninterrupted days of attention from their producer, and according to one unconfirmed report, the possible addition of one or more new and yet-to-be-recorded “up” tracks. Plans have always been for the Ranchero record to debut after the commotion surrounding Satellite Rides has settled down a bit. This would all seem to point toward a Spring 2002 release. But that’s only a guess.

Mainly, Murry’s got to have some free time to get it finished, and free time is something he simply hasn’t had for over a year. First there’s been the rehearsal for and recording of Satellite Rides. Then the touring. Plus the courting. Oh yeah, did I mention that Mr. Hammond is getting married? He is, and recent live shows have seen the dedication of both “Question” and “W-I-F-E” to the newly engaged bassist. Still, the Rancheros played an unannounced gig, their fist since November, at a recent Largo show in L.A. which had been advertised as a Rhett Miller solo show, and they hit the Largo stage again on August 23. Never seen a Ranchero Brothers show? You need to go, as a Ranchero show resurrects the lost art of the hootenanny.

So lots of bands have dedicated fans. But how many bands have fans who’s actions might ignite rumors of a (musically tasteful) alien invasion, or confound the spy satellites of a hostile power? See, just west of the intersection of I-295 and I-95 in Trenton, New Jersey, large mysterious hieroglyphics have recently materialized, apparently carved into the tall native grasses of the Robeling Memorial and Delaware Raritan Canal State Parks. From the ground, they appear innocent. But from the air, it’s obvious that someone, somehow, has mowed out giant letters which read: OLD 97’S. Who did it? One heavy equipment operator and Old 97’s fan Mark Layton. Now, we need someone to get up there and get a picture! Volunteers?

So how’s the 97’s current (7/31 – 8/12) gig as the opening band on the Matchbox 20 – Train – Old 97’s arena dates? Rhett Miller reported on that 7/31 chat that early shows have seen an excellent 10,000 or so folks in their seats for the 97’s, with some fine crowd reaction to the band. Last evening’s show in Toronto apparently saw a smaller and more laid-back crowd for the 97’s set. Kieran Grant, music critic for the Toronto Sun wrote this:

But it was Dallas, Texas, openers Old 97’s who were the most interesting band of the night with their bright, unbridled, wildly sentimental post-country-punk. As the cruel realities of this rock game so often seem to dictate, played to a politely indifferent reception.

The Toronto Star added:

By contrast, the Texas quartet Old 97’s launched the night with a short but blissful set of hard-driving, straight-ahead rock and roll that featured blistering renditions of “King Of All Of The World” and “Up The Devil’s Pay” from this year’s Satellite Rides disc.

Singer Rhett Miller expressed the band’s gratitude for being asked to open the show. But on a bill with Matchbox Twenty and Train, the Old 97’s looked like renegades showing up for the prom in jeans and a T-shirt. And bless them for that.

The last bit of news for today? Well when the Old 97’s signed to Elektra back in ’96, it was a three album deal, with Elektra having an option for two additional albums. Satellite Rides is the Old’s third Elektra release. So now what? Happily, it seems that despite some recent turmoil at the Warner music labels (Wilco having recently been dropped by Warner’s Reprise label) the good folks at Elektra retain their faith in good music and a little band from Texas, as Rhett Miller announced in a 7/31 on-line chat that Elektra has picked up their option for another two albums from the Old 97’s. Right on, right on!