Which is to say, "The Grand Theatre Volume One," the Old 97's late record, is a good one. How could it not be? After 17 years, eight studio albums and no lineup changes (a hiatus or two, but no changes), these guys know their sound and they keep churning it out.
Even through different explorations with each new album, the band seems to keep its signature sound. On this record, the band is proud of the garage rock and British invasion influences, but it clearly maintains the Old 97's sound.
And what is the "Old 97's sound?" It's partly Miller's singing and songwriting -- the way he makes it sound fun to be on the edge of madness. It's a sprinkling of songs from bassist Murry Hammond (two on this record), delivered in his more measured Southern drawl. It's more impressive work from Hammond and drummer Philip Peeples, an active and underrated rhythm section.
Most of all though, for the attention Miller and Hammond might get, the Old 97's sound is Ken Bethea's guitar. His surf-punk-twang sound is as much San Diego as Dallas. "A State of Texas," a rip-roaring tribute to the band's home state is the best showcase of Bethea's sound on "Theatre."
Another ear-catcher is Miller's "Champaign, Illinois," in which he informs poor souls they won't be going to heaven, but to a city in central Illinois. If the listener finds something familiar about the song, it's because it's based on Bob Dylan's "Desolation Road." Miller wrote it one night while reworking the lyrics of Dylan's song on a late-night ride through Illinois.
Eventually, the band contacted Dylan, who agreed to the release, a co-writing credit and to split publishing 50/50 with the band.
First single "Every Night Is Friday Night Without You" and "Please Hold On While the Train Is Moving" are the kind of rock for which the band is known, and should be staples in the live show in coming years.
The entire album should actually work well live, as the band set up shop in the Dallas Venue Sons of Hermann Hall for a week to see what would work live. Those that made the cut are either on this album or slated for next year's "The Grand Theatre Volume Two."
Of course, the band also slows it down a few times, most notably on "Let the Whiskey Take the Reins," a long, slow, seductive number that's a quiet reminder of the songwriters and musicians these guys are.
My spin: B
Released Tuesday on New West Records, "The Grand Theatre Volume One" is another solid effort. The Old 97's are survivors of a music scene that has changed completely since their heyday in the mid-to-late-'90s.
They've survived and thrived by sticking to what really works: good music. This one is a must-have for fans.
Released: Oct. 12 on New West Records
The Old 97's are: Rhett Miller-vocals, guitar; Murry Hammond-vocals, bass; Ken Bethea-lead guitar; Philip Peeples-drums
Producer: Salim Nourallah