Courtesy of Tim:
The first five songs on the new CD — in fact, seven out of the first eight — are the single best stretch of studio music the Old 97’s have made since at least 1997. Maybe longer.
Listening to this … listening to Ken play guitar on The Magician … well, that’s the sort of work that inspires a 17-year-old to quit school and be a rock star and makes an older one want to take up scrap-booking. It’s hard coming to terms with the fact that you’ll never be that good, that your fingers can’t move that fast, that clean. Never could. Sprinters must have felt the same way the first time they saw Usain Bolt. Might as well quit.
It’s all raw, desperate — like a skinny guy climbing out the window, or deciding to stand and fight, when the topless dancer he’s sneaking around with says, “My husband’s home!” And her husband is a bounty hunter.
I read a lot of the music writers these days and they tend to spend half their intellectual capital worrying about whether the 97’s are country, or country rock, or Americana, or what.
I really like music writers. But seriously, who gives a sh*t?
I’m here to contend that they are singular in what they do. That they are to Texas music what William Faulker was to Mississippi literature. That’s not to speak the merits of one over the other, just to state the facts: Nobody else does it, nobody else comes close. When you listen to the first three seconds, you know who you’re listening to.
Some people like it. Some people don’t. That’s fine. I order Blue Moon because that’s the kind of beer I like. I listen to the Old 97’s because they play the kind of music that makes me happy to be living. They reconcile Chekov and Johnny Cash for me, and I think that’s pretty cool. And we work to enable art and sport, no?
As to the Grand Theatre, Volume One: Yes, I believe it hews a little closer to the collective soul of the band.
I wasn’t a tremendous fan of Blame it On Gravity. I think the best song on that album, and an excellent one (especially lyrically), was The Color of a Lonely Heart. But, overall, that CD sounded a little too friendly, a little too sensitive, a little too trustworthy.
The new one … it’s not a gentleman’s game, not the Kentucky Derby. More like minor league hockey: It’ll knock a couple of teeth loose.
There are 13 tracks, including the bonus Marcy Anne, on the version I downloaded. I like 10 a lot. A couple of them don’t move the needle for me, including The Beauty Marks, which sounds a little like Rhett-does-David Bowie.
But that’s just one man’s opinion.
The beauty of Rhett Miller’s singing, when he’s really on, is that he can sound like some accidental, beautiful cross between Black Francis and Patterson Hood and someone else I can’t think of at the moment. He’s got the gift of sounding like he’s simultaneously reaching beyond his range and very much capable of stretching much more.
On Every Night is Friday Night Without You, you can actually hear his voice nearly crack and gather itself right at the breaking point, and it reminds me of the way Dale Earnhardt (RIP) would drive deep, deep into a corner and just pull it out at the last minute. He sings the song as if he’s reached the end of his rope with a smoking hot girl who is just poison, not worth it anymore. Like she’s collarbone high.
There’s a point in many of their concerts when they move very quickly from Big Brown Eyes to Doreen. Rhett, as fast as he can count, screams: “One, two … onetwothreefour!… ” and off they go, four guys with a stash of pot running from the law in a car that needs the rings replaced.
That’s what this CD reminds me of. Like the live concerts I’ve seen them perform through the years, especially the ones on the really small stages, when there’s just so much energy and so little space and you’re worried Rhett’s gonna get so worked up that he’ll throw an elbow and accidentally break Ken or Murry’s nose.
And that the whole joint could spontaneously combust with a single spark set off by machine gun drumming.