How great is it to discover a band that has been here all along?
The Old 97s are nothing new. Coming together in Dallas in 1993, the popular quartet led by the aptly-named Rhett Butler has recorded 15 studio CDs since 1994's Hitchhike to Rhome (Idol Records). The band emerged as part of a larger resurgence in alternate-Americana/Country music that included Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt and The Bottle Rockets.
Imagine my surprise when I reviewed Blackberry Smoke's The Whippoorwill (Southern Ground, 2012) thinking it was the Second Coming of Southern Rock when an avid listener took me to task for not having thought of the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell and the like. Well, the Old 97s are 'the like."
Led by the erstwhile Rhett Miller, the band proved to be more than proficient in the art of the American Roadhouse. Their music knocks the red Texas dust from Western Swing, Tex-Mex, Buddy Holly rock and alternative country/rock (is there such a thing), while surrounding Miller's often obtuse and sardonic lyrics like a Corona around lime juice. Superb primers on the band's music is 2005's superb live set, Alive and Wired (New West) and Wreck Your Life... And Then Some: The Complete Bloodshot Recordings (Bloodshot Records, 2009).
For Most Messed Up the band cuts to the quick making a recording so beautifully sophomoric, one would think of the Rolling Stones in their 40s except that the Old 97s are serious about their depravity and hedonism and are still young enough to have the bona fides to back it up. Roundly criticized for their lack of respectful maturity, the Old 97s continue to do what they do best, make sublime roadhouse music for the 21st Century. An apt comparison might be to call the Old 97s the Tucker Max of music, but that might be too sharp an indictment.
If 50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30, then these guys are just about right on time to produce songs like "Let's Get Drunk & Get It On" and "Wasted." These songs are infectious with the band's "youth is wasted on the young" attitude. I reduce it to this. So do I want to listen to music age appropriate to the artist like Paul McCartney's New (Hear Music, 2013) which is mature and well behaved, or something with teeth and viral time...yeah, that's right.
Longer Than You've Been Alive; Give It Time; Let's Get Drunk & Get It
On; This Is the Ballad; Wheels Off; Nashville; Wasted; Guadalajara; The
Disconnect; The Ex of All You See.
Rhett Miller: lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Murry Hammond: bass guitar,
occasional lead vocals, backup vocals; Ken Bethea: lead guitar, backup
vocals; Philip Peeples: drums, backup vocals.
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