I’ve been a fan of the Old 97’s since they appeared on Austin City Limits (I was too young and lived a little too far away from the bars they played back then). They recorded “Too Far To Care” about 10 minutes from my family’s farm. I’ve stuck with them through hiatuses, solo albums, and power pop. I appreciate that they’ll never make another “Wreck Your Life” and quite frankly, as awesome as that sounds, it probably wouldn’t be that great. You only get to do your 20’s once. Realizing that as a good thing is sign of maturity-for you and your favorite bands.
Grand Theater Vols. 1 & 2 were billed as returns to form, and they were; the loud, twangy, rumbly alt. country that got me in the door in the first place. Trying to find a place for THAT sound, the rockabilly-ish country punk, alongside some of their more wide-ranging albums like “Fight Songs” or “Blame It On Gravity” is no easy balancing act. For the most part, I think “Most Messed Up” pulls it off, integrating more poppy, jangling songs with the strum and twang cowpunk of their earlier albums.
Rhett drops some f-bombs too, if that’s something you’re into. But, HBO language aside, he remains king of the Roger Miller-esque one liner. It’s tempting to say that the 97’s are back, but they’ve never gone anywhere. If I had to make a complaint about this album, it’s that it lacks a certain Murry quality. His one song on the album is one of his Beatles-leaning numbers and I never get that good-natured, train-riding, aw shucks Saturday Matinee cowboy feeling he adds anywhere on this album. For me, it’s always been the key ingredient, the thing that sanded off some of the seemier edges of Rhett’s tales of drink, women and woe.
Anyway, it’s good to see the Old 97’s on a hot streak and I’ll be seeing them soon (in El Paso, on Cinco De Mayo). In the mean time, I look forward to settling in with these songs for awhile and getting to know all the words, because chances are, I’ll be singing along to them again and again.