Take a step into yesterday; a day where your favorite artist’s new single could only be found in the jukebox at the local diner or honky-tonk bar. The silver in your pocket could get you multiple plays and that’s what you did with your Saturday night. The Old 97’s will bring you back there with their version of “punky-tonk.”
With a sound that could be heard in their hometown of Dallas, Texas or any number of countryside pubs in the U.K., frontman Rhett Miller and the boys combine the dirty stylings of Texas old school blues and rock and combine Brit pop sensibilities. They have used this combination since 1993 when they were once considered pioneers of the “alt-country” world. With songs in such movies and TV shows as “The Break Up,” “Scrubs” and “Veronica Mars,” you may have heard them without even realizing it.
The band consists of Miller (vocals, guitar), Ken Bethea (guitar), Murray Hammond (bass, vocals) & Philip Peeples (drums, vocals). Their ninth studio release, off of New West Records, was originally supposed to be part of a double volume released in 2010. Instead, they released the two volumes separately and have done a great job in both cases.
With Volume 2, we see Miller serenade would-be lovers in the up-tempo rocker “I’m a Trainwreck” and apologize to their parents in the opener “Brown Haired Daughter.” The perfect song to showcase his vocal talents is “The Actor” all while Bethea gives the perfect background. He goes from soul singer to bar-soaked honky-tonk in “Ivy.”
“Bright Spark (See What I Mean)” is a great top-down highway driving screamer and bassist Murray Hammond comes up big (as usual) on the nostalgic “How Lovely It All Was.” Of course there’s no drinking song like a pirates’ sea-chant (yes, I really DID just write that). Any review would be remiss if “White Port” were not mentioned, complete with yodeling and all. Miller takes a shot at New York in the bittersweet “Manhattan (I’m Done)” and “You Call It Rain” closes out the album with some understated, yet memorable guitar work by Bethea.
Long time Old97s fans will feel that the band has come home. The band had taken a detour on a few recent albums and started heading back in the right direction with Volume 1. They’ve come full circle here. Fans of Drive-By-Truckers or the Jayhawks will enjoy this album as well.
Written by Victor Alfieri