Top 10 Albums of 2008: #5 Blame it On Gravity by The Old 97’s

With one line from the song, “No Baby I,” Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller sums up quite succinctly what I have long believed to be the band’s motto…

“Strum it on a Telecaster.
Sing it like a train disaster song.”

That formula had always been a winner for the boys from Dallas, and it is a formula that serves them well once again on Blame it On Gravity after a brief departure for 2004’s Drag it Up.

For this record, the band returned home to Dallas for recording sessions with producer Salim Nourallah. They also returned to their classic brand of country tinged rock and roll fuelled by the incendiary guitar work of Ken Bethea and swagger filled vocals from Miller. The music is attacked with such abandon that it could be reminiscent of the “train disaster song” from which the band originally took its name.

The most fire and vigor comes through on the album’s lead single, “Dance with Me.” Bethea serves up a surf-rock riff that would make Dick Dale proud while Miller sings of “flip-flop smiles” and “big blue eyes on vacation.” It’s a song that rates highly on the fun-factor scale, and one that received a lot of play around my house this year.

While that formula of energetic rock and roll guitar riffs and punchy vocals carries most of the album, there are some quieter moments as well. Bass player Murray Hammond takes the lead vocal on the country weeper “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue.” It’s a song Hammond also wrote. There is a certain twang to Hammond’s voice that lends itself well to a song such as this.

Another quiet moment comes on the Miller fronted “No Baby I.” Miller calls this his favorite song on the record due to the control he was able to exert in the studio. He says it’s the first time that he’s felt himself truly relax, exercise restraint, and not feel like a “spazz.”

The spazz quote came from an interview I did with Rhett Miller when the band came to Knoxville in October. He also told me how proud he and the band were of the record and how excited they were to be out on the road promoting it. The group’s rediscovered energy and excitement came through in their live show… and it comes through on the record as well.

Here are two tracks from the album along with a repost of my interview with Rhett Miller from this fall. In the interview, Miller gives a solo acoustic performance of “No Baby I” and “Question” from 2001’s Satellite Rides.

Old 97’s: Dance with Me (Buy Album)
Old 97’s: Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue (Buy Album)
Interview with Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s (featuring “No Baby I” and “Question”)

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