Jefe here, and just wanted to let everyone know that my charity project is close to wrapping up. Desperate Times – Songs of the Old 97’s is officially out in the wild. If you’re not familiar with the project, it’s an album of Old 97’s covers by a bunch of great artists with all proceeds going to charity: water. It’s been a very fun project, and I greatly appreciate the Old 97’s giving me the green light to make it happen. If you supported the original Pledgemusic campaign, thanks! (And I’ll get the limited edition vinyl out ASAP!) But if you’re just hearing about it, check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it. And any proceeds still go to charity: water so it’s for a good cause.
> CDBaby (CD and digital download)
Here’s a list of all the tracks with some thoughts on each of them:
1. Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On – Hayes Carll
A complete reinvention of the song. Hayes turns it into a more plaintive request for short-term companionship, with a quiet sense of desperation. Hayes seemingly wants to claim the title of “most messed up” himself.
2. Salome – The O’s
John and Taylor are an acoustic duo with a real banjo-heavy country sound. Salome is a personal favorite of mine, in part because it’s a microcosm of the Old 97’s sound — a country beat with a desperately heartbroken protagonist and a wailing lead guitar that’s barely acknowledging either. The O’s take on it is refreshingly different.
3. Rollerskate Skinny – Kelly Willis
Kelly is one of Austin’s most beloved local artists. Her voice is such a powerful instrument, not flashy, inherently country—she just takes a song and owns it. Her version of Rollerskate Skinny makes it sound like it was written for her. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
4. Question – Ben Kweller
I’ve enjoyed Ben’s music for a long time, and when he chose Question i could hear him singing it right away. He brings an earnest vulnerability to songs like this, and his piano-heavy version is very cool — there’s something in the vocals that adds a sadness to the whole affair.
5. Won’t Be Home No More – Monte Warden
Monte is royalty in the realm of alt-country. His band The Wagoneers had a vintage country sound and a reputation for blistering live shows. His treatment of fan favorite WoBeHoNoMo has a strong Buddy Holly vibe.
6. Melt Show – Slobberbone
I am HUGE Slobberbone fan. Fun bit of trivia: so is Stephen King, who’s mentioned them in at least two novels. I think Brent is an amazing songwriter and some of my favorite live shows ever have been Slobberbone/Old 97’s combos. Their version of Melt Show rocks just as hard as you’d expect.
7. Valentine – The Deathray Davies
John Dufhilo, frontman of long-time Dallas faves the Deathray Davies, typically has many projects going at once — he also leads Cantina, a more acoustic-flavored group (featuring Philip Peeples on drums); he’s the drummer for Apples in Stereo; and he just launched a new album with the Cliffs. The Deathray Davies have a fuzzy, kinetic pop sound that turns the acoustic simplicity of Valentine into something completely different.
8. The New Kid – Sarah Jaffe
I saw Sarah open for the Old 97’s a few years ago and was really impressed with her voice and presence. Her version of The New Kid is a daring, haunting track that verges on sinister.
9. Victoria – Shinyribs
After years with the Gourds, Kevin Russell could pretty much do no wrong in the Texas music scene. The fact that he followed up that era with a band as great as Shinyribs is just a gift to us all. They do some very inspired covers and here they transform Victoria into a festive jam, complete with a horn section. It’s a blast—especially live.
10. Four Leaf Clover – Jessie Zazu and Linwood Kirk of Those Darlins
Ken told me once that Those Darlins reminded him of the Old 97’s when they started out — just the right amount of swagger. Sadly we catch them here just as they disband. But Jessie and Linwood pulled out all the stops with this track, creating a sort of 70’s lounge vibe that would be right at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Another of my favorites on the album.
11. Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue – Will Johnson
Will Johnson can do no wrong in my book. I grieved for the end of Centro-Matic but we’re still blessed to have Will the solo artist, and this track shows you why. Will talked about “turning a song on its ear” and I think there’s no better example of someone taking someone else’s song and making it their own.
12. Streets of Where I’m From – The Polyphonic Spree
The incongruence here is striking. The Polyphonic Spree have such a lush, full sound — harmonies with a couple of dozen singers will do that. They can turn any song into an anthem, and their sound has a natural, glowing positive feel — so of course they chose a song drenched in despair and pain and remorse.
13. Wish the Worst – The Travoltas
Frontman Salim Nourallah knows the Old 97’s well — he’s produced their last four albums, ones universally praised for capturing their true sound more so than some studio efforts. Salim is quite the showman himself, and the Travoltas are a blast live. It’s a tongue-in-cheek pop/rock/lounge mix that’s pretty unique. Wish the Worst is a long-time fan favorite that Rhett sings from a bitter, drunken place, and this cover is coming from the same place — just from a more extroverted guy, I’d say.
14. Niteclub – Occasional Milkshake
Frontman Mark Bryan — founding member, songwriter and lead guitarist for Hootie & the Blowfish —is a huge fan of the Old 97’s. He was the first person to claim a song, and went with Niteclub, and tears into it for a very faithful cover.
15. Can’t Get A Line – Grey Griffin
I’m pretty sure Murry wrote this song for Grey, so it’s a lot of fun to hear her cover it — and to hear their son Tex on harmonies. I’m a huge fan of this song,
16. Dressing Room Walls – Western Star
I met Max from Western Star in the studio when the Old 97’s were recording Most Messed Up. Ken produced their new album, and he mentioned to me that they did a real “barnburner” version of Dressing Room Walls. It ended up not making their album, so I was quick to grab it. It does not disappoint.