Old 97's

Blame It on Gravity | New West
By MIKE MILIARD  |  June 3, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars
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The pronounced popward shift of their past few albums — never mind frontman Rhett Miller’s Jon Brion–abetted solo record — may have scored the Old 97’s wider exposure and more FM airplay, but it’s also estranged them from some of their older fans. (Well, this one, at least.) So it was a nice surprise to find that, for the first time in perhaps a decade, the band have shelved their recent yen for infectious pop confections in favor of the punchy Telecaster crunch and dusty West Texas twang of their early years. From the first song, “The Fool,” you hear the rejuvenation: drummer Philip Peeples puts down a propulsive, skittering hi-hat, later exploding into roiling freight-train fills; guitarist Ken Bethea accents his ascending riffs with echoing tremolo and windswept feedback; and, of course, there’s hyper-literate Miller, his croaky croon underlaid with bassist Murry Hammond’s high-lonesome harmonies. Hammond — who’s just released a crushingly beautiful new solo album of his own, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way — has always worn his heart on his Western-embroidered sleeve, and his loping and lovelorn “The Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue” is a gorgeous ballad. On “I Will Remain,” Miller, older but no less vulnerable to Cupid’s poison arrows, reminds us how easily ear-pleasing unrequited infatuation can be: “This is more than I can tolerate/The kind of pain you gotta medicate.” The guitars ring clear and true, the backbeat is snare-tight, the harmonies are heavenly, and the Old 97’s are back.
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