Tag Archives: Old 97’s

Arctic Monkeys/Old 97’s

Words up front, guitars not far behind.

Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See
Turns out the bludgeoning desert rock these normally nimble Brits turned in on 2009’s Humbug was just an aberration. Phew. Main Monkey Alex Turner weds quip to hook with far too much finesse to settle for brawn alone. A bit of Humbug’s heaviness remains, but it comes with the sorts of angular guitars and turns of phrase that marked the band’s surprisingly durable 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. And Turner, always precociously self-aware, is beginning to do genuine feeling almost as well as come-ons and kiss-offs. “Love Is A Laserquest” maps the moment young people start feeling old with a cartographer’s precision, and the title track—it’s British slang for “give it a try,” in case you were wondering—suggests that Turner may go on to write the sorts of wry love songs that become standards. If, for now, it sounds like he’s still a few genuine feelings away from that, give him time. Four albums in, he’s still only 25, and getting deeper. B+
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Old 97’s: The Grand Theatre, Volume Two
How is Rhett Miller, who has built a long and fruitful career out of using train mishaps as metaphors for romantic dysfunction, just now writinga song called “I’m A Trainwreck”? Everything here sounds like something the 97’s could have, should have, or actually have done before, and your degree of affection for the band will determine whether you describe this little brother to last year’s Volume One as freewheeling or merely stitched together. The two volumes should have been edited down to one, sure, but the keepers here prove this is still one of the few bands whose live chemistry translates to record, and Miller more than meets his quota for lyrical jewels: “He said, ‘Can I buy you a drink?’/What he meant was, ‘Can I buy you?’/Yeah his eyes were pits of despair/But his accent recalled the bayou.” That’s almost as good as “I keep turning up The Wedding Present/You’re too tired to turn me down/Well you’reprobably gonna tell me that this sounds a little adolescent/But counting me there’s 1.3 million lonely people in this town.” You barely notice that sly little ‘counting me’ the first time around, which is exactly how Miller wants it. B+
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Hayes Carll/Old 97’s

A couple alt-country stalwarts return, reliable as ever. These Texas boys are frequent touring partners. Catch them if you can.
Hayes Carll: Kmag Yoyo (& Other American Stories)
The title is military speak for “Kiss my ass guys, you’re on your own,” an acronym for when the going gets tough. And the soldier in the title track, though he “ain’t even nineteen,” already knows tough in a way only someone who’s done business with the Taliban could. Among the best of the Other American Stories is a Christmas tale about a family that’s learned to be thankful for its own specific brand of dysfunction and one about a Democrat who walks into a bar alone and walks out with a Republican who probably won’t leave him her number in the morning. Mostly, though, his great American theme of choice is the highway – and all that you’ve heard comes with it. So while the wife he writes home to in “The Letter” might not be comforted by a line like “I swear I tried to reach you, but the cop took my phone,” she probably knew from the start that he was a type. You’ll swear you know him from somewhere, and yet you’ve still never met anyone quite like him. A-
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Old 97’s: The Grand Theatre, Volume One
While I prefer 2008’s more lyrical Blame It On Gravity, this one – a band album through and through – says encouraging things about this particular great band’s future. There’s the implicit promise of a Volume 2, first off, but also an urgency that suggests they’re functioning as a unit rather than an excellent singer-songwriter with an uncannily sympathetic backing band. The semi-downside is that, while they sound more juiced than they have since 2001’s unstoppable Satellite Rides, the lyrics aren’t the focus this time around – nor do they need to be when the band is this tight. But most bands, tight or otherwise, don’t have a writer as sharp as Rhett Miller in their corner. That’s not to say there aren’t great songs here. “Let The Whiskey Take The Reins” enters the pantheon on first listen while “Champaign, Illinois” repurposes the melody of this blog’s namesake Dylan song so well that Bob himself, who normally denies such requests outright, let the band keep half the publishing rights. Game recognizes game. B+
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