Archive for the Old 97’s Category

Best of 2010: 6-4

Posted in Mumford and Sons, Old 97's, Robert Plant, Top 21 of 2010 on December 30, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#6 – Band of Joy by Robert Plant

Do I really need the introductory paragraph to explain who Robert Plant is?  The former Led Zeppelin front man is considered by many to be the greatest vocalist in Rock & Roll history and is widely recognized as a legend.  He threw his hat into the Americana ring in 2007 with Raising Sand, his duet album with Alison Krauss.  The results of that pairing was a handful of Grammy Awards, a few more Americana Music Awards, and almost universal praise for the pairing.

In a way, Band of Joy is an extension of Raising Sand.  Producer T-Bone Burnett is replaced by Buddy Miller, and instead of a duet partner in Krauss, Plant harmonizes primarily with Patty Griffin.  The results, however, are fairly similar as Plant continues to explore the subtleties of his voice instead of the raw power he displayed with Zeppelin.  He also once again displays his gift for interpretation as he takes songs from artists such as Low, Townes Van Zandt, Los Lobos, and Richard Thompson among others and makes them his own.  Even traditional tunes such as “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” are given the same, freshly haunting treatment as the rest of the record.

Robert Plant: Harm’s Swift Way (Buy Album)

#5 –Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons

This is sort of the reverse of the Kasey Chambers cheat.  Sigh No More, the debut from Mumford & Sons was originally released in Europe in October of 2009.  Fortunately, it carries a 2010 release date in the U.S.  I took some heat for being a latecomer to this group, but I think I’ve made amends with a Top 5 placement in this year’s list.  The album may have even placed higher if I’d immersed myself in it sooner.  I blame myself for ignoring the buzz around the London quartet for as long as I did.  I had somehow convinced myself that something with that much hype couldn’t be any good.

I was wrong.  Mumford & Sons were exactly as advertised.

This is a punchy folk/pop album that isn’t afraid to expand the genre by placing horns alongside banjos or crashing cymbals and distortion with acoustic guitars.  Another hallmark of their sound is their use of intricate harmonies that blend an early Avett Brothers energy with a Fleet Foxes style layering of voices.  Songs like “Winter Winds” and “Little Lion Man” grab you from the start while others like “White Blank Page” and “The Cave” slowly build up beautifully cathartic releases.  Grounded in folk, but not tied to any one sound, this is an album that you need to hear.

Believe the hype.  Don’t make my mistake.

Mumford & Sons: Little Lion Man (Buy Album)

#4 – The Grand Theatre by The Old 97’s

When I first started to really devour Americana and alt-country music about a decade ago, I constantly scoured various websites, magazines, and message boards looking for advice on artists who were considered “essential listening.”  When it came to essential groups, all of the usual suspects kept surfacing.  Out of those groups… Uncle Tupelo exploded, Whiskeytown imploded, The Jayhawks split, The Backsliders slid away… even Jason & The Scorchers flamed out (for 14 years… they came back).  Somehow, The Old 97’s outlasted them all and are still going strong after nearly 20 years.

The boys from Dallas released their eighth studio album this year and drew on their years of experience on the road to try to create an album that captured the energy and feel of their live shows.  The result is a mostly amped up guitar fueled album that features all the hallmarks of the classic Old 97’s sound.  You can read my full review of the album over at Country Standard Time or listen to my audio review with clips from several songs.  In the meantime… here’s “Champagne, Illinois” from the album… a song that was born when front man Rhett Miller decided to rewrite the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

Old 97’s: Champagne, Illinois (Buy Album)

The Old 97’s: The Grand Theatre Volume 1

Posted in Old 97's on October 29, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

The Old 97’s new album The Grand Theatre: Volume 1 was released earlier this month.  I’ve had my hands on it for a few months now, and I finally had the time this week to put together a little review of the album.  Listen to the review below, and then listen to a track from the album.

Oh yeah… you can also read a review of the album I wrote for Country Standard Time.

Grand Theatre: Volume 1 Audio Review (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Let the Whiskey Take the Reigns (Buy Album)

Weekend YouTube: Old 97’s

Posted in Old 97's, Rhett Miller on October 23, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

The Old 97’s new record came out a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve had my ears on it for a couple of months now and have been working on getting something posted here about it.  Hopefully, that will happen this week.

In the meantime… you can read a review of the album that I wrote for Country Standard Time and check out these YouTube vids of some of the songs from the album.

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

Posted in Old 97's, Top 10 of '08 on December 29, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

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”)

Friday Top 5: Charlie Louvin & The Old 97’s do Knoxville

Posted in Charlie Louvin, Old 97's, Rhett Miller on October 3, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

The Old 97’s rocked Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre last night… and they brought Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin along for the ride. Here are a few highlights…

My Top 5 moments from spending Thursday with Charlie Louvin and The Old 97’s…

5.) Getting a free CD from Charlie Louvin: I stopped by the merch table to speak with Mr. Louvin before the 97’s came onstage. I told him that I work for WDVX and that we still play a lot of the old Louvin Brothers catalogue on our station. He thanked me, gave me a copy of his new gospel CD, and asked me to play it a little. Who am I to say no to Charlie Louvin? Here’s a track from the gospel album and one from Charlie’s 2007 solo album as well.

Charlie Louvin: There’s a Higher Power (Buy Album)
Charlie Louvin: Knoxville Girl (Buy Album)

4.) “Barrier Reef”: This is my favorite Old 97’s song and hearing it live always gives me a thrill.

The Old 97’s: Barrier Reef (Buy Album)

3) “Smokers”: This is a song from the 97’s album, Drag it Up. Admittedly, that album has never been my favorite… and I seem to have completely missed this song. It caught my ear this summer when I saw the band play in Asheville, but last night I was totally blown away by it. Bass player Murray Hammond takes lead vocals with frontman Rhett Miller providing the “Oohs” and “Ahhs.” Ken Bethea provides the face-melting guitars, and Phillip Peeples pounds the drums. Great song, and for some reason… a relatively new one to my ears. Here’s a live version.

The Old 97’s: Smokers (Buy Album)

2) Hearing Charlie Louvin sing “Cash on the Barrellhead,” “The Christian Life,” and “Knoxville Girl.”: These are absolute classic songs from one of the all-time greats. The real highlight for me was probably “The Christian Life” as it’s one of my favorite tracks from The Byrds’ classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. I had goosebumps as Charlie sang. Charlie actually thanked Gram Parsons for helping to expose new audiences to his music. The track I’m offering here an alternate from the Sweetheart sessions featuring Gram Parsons on lead vocal.

The Byrds: The Christian Life (Buy Album)

1) Hanging out with Rhett Miller in the studios of WDVX: Rhett stopped by the station before the show and went on the air with me for a few minutes. Here are the results…

Rhett Miller: Live at the WDVX Studios

On the Air with The Old 97’s

Posted in Old 97's on October 2, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Just a heads up for everybody…

I’m going to be on the air live with The Old 97’s later today at WDVX. They’ll be stopping by the studio sometime around 4:00 Eastern Time, and you can listen in at

The Old 97’s are playing a show at the Bijou Theatre later tonight with Charlie Louvin. I imagine we’ll chat a bit about the show and the new album, Blame it on Gravity. Maybe we’ll get ’em to play a few songs on-air too.

Listen in if you can… If not, I’ll try to post some highlights later on. If you have any questions for the band… leave them in the comments here, and I’ll try to get to some of them on the air.

In the meantime… here’s a “Queston” from the Old 97’s.

The Old 97’s: Question (Buy Album)
Update… The Old 97’s won’t be in until closer to 5:00. If you tuned in at 4:00… sorry. Don’t worry though, they should still be here.

The Week That Was: Vacation Roundup

Posted in Loretta Lynn, Old 97's, Tift Merritt on July 28, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Back in Knoxville this week after a much-needed and music-filled vacation. I know some things did not run smoothly here while I was gone, but all the scheduled posts went up on time. The other tech aspects I’ll look into more this week. If problems persist, I’ll move my files to a different host.

As for the vacation… The unofficial start to the trip took place last Friday night in tiny corner of Knoxville called the Pilot Light. The Pilot Light is a small, dark, pit in a part of Knoxville referred to as “The Old City.” These days the club acts mostly as a punk and metal venue. Friday night it hosted blog favorite and Grammy nominee Tift Merritt.

On Saturday, Tift and her band played the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. Friday night’s surroundings were decidedly less glamorous. Despite the drawbacks of the venue, however, it was one of the more enjoyable Tift Merritt shows I have attended (six in total). My wife and I got there early and were able to grab spots right in front of the stage in the center, and the small room meant a small crowd of mostly attentive, die-hard Tift fans. It made for a very intimate setting that seemed to energize the band and make it easy for them to play off the crowd… and in the crowd. As part of the encore Tift, bassist Jay Brown, and guitarist Scott McCall (drummer Zeke Hutchins rounded out the band) actually left the stage and waded into the crowd for an acapella version of “Supposed to Make You Happy” sans amplification. Throw in a blistering version of “Broken,” a finale of “Still Pretending” with Tift encouraging all the couples in the audience to slow dance, and a solo piano performance of “Good Hearted Man” (a song my wife and I used in our wedding)… and it was a pretty good night.

Here’s a live track from Tift’s 2005 concert recording Home is Loud.

Tift Merritt: Supposed to Make You Happy (Buy Album)

The vacation began in earnest on Sunday with a trip to Kentucky to visit some family and play a little golf. I grew up in Paintsville, KY… just a few miles from the birthplace of Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn and that now famous “Cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.” Remarkably, in all my years of living there I had never visited, or even seen, Loretta’s childhood home. That changed Wednesday afternoon. Drive a few miles off the main road, another mile or two down a dirt road, then a little further on a twisting one-lane strip of blacktop, and you’ll see Loretta’s birthplace still looking mostly as it did when she was born in 1935. If you stop at the old general store at the mouth of the hollow, Loretta’s brother will take you to the cabin (pictured above) for a guided tour. We didn’t take the tour, but we did drive past the house to have a look. As we were driving by, XM’s classic country channel was playing a Loretta tune… a happy little coincidence.

Since most of you probably have heard “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the song that immortalized the cabin on the hill… here is one of my favorite classic Loretta Lynn cuts.

Loretta Lynn: Fist City (Buy Album)

Thursday, it was off to Asheville for the Old 97’s at The Orange Peel. First off, The Orange Peel is a great place to see a show… just a truly great club that should be checked out if you’re in the Asheville area.

It was our first time seeing the Old 97’s, and the show was all we expected it to be. The band brought a high level of energy right from the start with Phillip Peeples providing a solid rhythm on the drums, Ken Bethea’s guitar ringing out like a siren, Murry Hammond keeping the beat on the bass and providing backing vocals (lead on a couple of songs), and front man Rhett Miller playing the part of the rock star. Miller has a certain captivating energy when he’s on stage that commands the audience’s attention throughout the show. That was never more on display than at the end of the night.

During the closing song of the main set, something happened that cut all power to the stage… and is wasn’t coming back. The show should have been over, but Rhett stayed on stage alone with his guitar and banged out acoustic versions of fan favorites “Timebomb” and “Niteclub” from 1997’s alt-country masterpiece Too Far to Care. The room was really too big and noisy for such a thing to have worked, but it did. The crowd gathered tight around the stage and sang along with Rhett as he wailed about getting drunk and burning the nite club to the ground. It was a unique experience and one I’m glad to have attended. A lot of bands would have simply walked away when the power blew, but Rhett stayed around and gave a crowd hungry for an encore exactly what they wanted.

Here are the studio versions of the two encore songs. “Niteclub” seemed an appropriate way to end the evening.

The Old 97’s: Timebomb (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Niteclub (Buy Album)

Old 97’s @ The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC Tonight

Posted in Old 97's on July 24, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Going to see The Old 97’s in Asheville tonight. I’ve never been to a 97’s show before, and I’m pretty excited. They are one of the last bands on my list of must see acts and just about my only chance to see one of the early alt-country bands who are still together and touring in their original incarnation.

I really didn’t discover Americana until around 2002. The Alt-country subgenre came around a year later. Because of that, I missed the chance to see most of the bands that I now idolize.

I’ve seen Ryan Adams, and I’ve seen Caitlin Cary… I never got the chance to see Whiskeytown.
I’ve seen Son Volt, and I’ve seen Wilco… I’ll never have the opportunity to see Uncle Tupelo.
I’ve seen Jason Ringenberg… never Jason and the Scorchers.
I went to the Gary Louris and Mark Olson reunion tour… but even that wasn’t quite The Jayhawks.

When Rhett Miller started releasing solo records a few years back, I thought I’d missed the boat on the Old 97’s as well. Thankfully, that is not the case. The 97’s are touring now behind their new album Blame it on Gravity, and tonight I get to cross them off my list.

I’ll probably post some stuff from the new album at some point. Right now, however, its The Old 97’s Alive and Wired.

The Old 97’s: Wish the Worst (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Murder (Or a Heart Attack) (Buy Album)