Hitchhike to Rhome (reissue)

It was a different world when the Old 97's released their debut in 1994. The Internet was barely a thing. OJ was on TV running from Johnny Law. And grunge was sweeping the alternative nation. After a failed attempt at being another Nirvana, bassist Murry Hammond and a young songwriter named Rhett Miller stuck to their Dallas, Texas, roots and formed the Old 97's with drummer Philip Peeples and guitarist Ken Bethea. Hitchhike to Rhome is a country album with hooks and lyrics from a kid who read books. It's a combo these freaks and geeks would perfect on their followup Wreck Your Life, but HtR is a raw snapshot of a band with more to offer than the typical alt-country fare. Elmore Leonard and Abbie Hoffman references sidle up next to Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard covers. And unlike some of the straight playing found on Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown records, Hitchhike to Rhome's punk-rock energy crackles from the speakers. This deluxe reissue includes demos of songs, some of which would appear on later records (the excellent “Ivy” wasn't officially recorded until 2011's The Grand Theatre, Vol. 2). It shows how consistent the Old 97's have been over the course of two decades—these hitchhikers were cruising all along.