The Grand Theatre, Volume One
Almost two decades and eight records in, and the Old 97’s are living in this sort of alternate universe—not quite accessible enough for mainstream popularity, and definitely too unhip to win over fickle tastemakers. Instead they lean on a rabid fan base that would probably kill for the band … well, at least forgive them for a decade that saw the 97’s lose some of their sneer and giddy-up. But the four Texans sound as if they discovered the fountain of youth on The Grand Theatre, Volume One. “The Dance Class” revs up the band’s Replacements-meets-Johnny Cash chug, and “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” is a Saturday night with the Bay City Rollers and a bottle of whiskey. Vocalist Rhett Miller wrote most of these songs while touring the UK, and there are plenty of allusions to the road-weary and lovelorn. The title track simultaneously name-drops and rhymes Tate Museum and Roman Coliseum, while “Champaign, Illinois” (a re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”) playfully condemns the Midwestern town to purgatory. This record has pop. It has twang. I think the Old 97’s might just make the term “mid-life crisis” kinda hip.