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Old 97's "The Grand Theatre Volume?One," Continues Legacy

By Matt Mainuli
On November 9, 2010

The phrase 'alternative country' is not used much in the music world anymore. This mixture of honky-tonk, punk, and folk rock gave rise to such bands as Son Volt, Wilco, Drive-by Truckers, and Uncle Tupelo during the 1990s. Along with Jeff Tweedy and Steve Earle, Old 97's singer/songwriter Rhett Miller launched the movement onto radio, television, and the big screen. Miller has released three highly successful solo albums since 2000, and eight albums with Old 97's since 1993. With their latest album, "The Grand Theatre Volume One," the band returns to their Dallas roots. You can almost hear their snakeskin boots stomping as they swagger through 12 tumbling new tunes.

"Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)" is the alt-country version of "I Gotta Feeling." A quick stomping beat and plenty of handclaps effortlessly carry the song along so that the listener can shout aloud the words to the stop-and-go chorus. Loose snare drums and greasy guitars make up "The Magician," an undeniably catchy song that warns us against the trickery of politicians. Fans of Johnny Cash will enjoy "You Were Born To Be In Battle," as guitar player Murry Hammond lends his voice to the somber track, sounding like gravel being crunched by a Ford F-150.

Miller includes a beautiful rewrite of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" on the new album. The song, "Champaign, Illinois," is not a cover or remix, but rather a swift three-minute country song that is at most heavily inspired by Dylan's 11 minute masterpiece. "Please Hold On" is reminiscent of an early Who song, with mean electric guitar and a simple blues chord progression. The highlight of the nearly ,six minute song is a long breakdown in which fuzzy electric guitar vamps on a classic blues scale, similar to The Beatles' "Revolution." The album ends with "The Beauty Marks," a spooky love song sung in a near whisper. It's a modern version of "I Put a Spell On You," with quivering minor chords and lyrics darker than a New York back alley on a rainy November night.

Old 97's is a band that everyone has heard somewhere before. Rhett Miller & Co. have been making great music since just around the time we were born, and the fact that they've stuck around is a tribute to their talent. Through movies or TV, this band has influenced millions of us with their songs, whether we knew it or not.

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