The Old 97s continue a colorful, recording resurgence with The Grand Theatre Volume 2. The follow up to 2010’s ‘Volume 1‘ finds Rhett, Ken, Philip and Murry at the top of their game in the studio, revisiting an electric, mid-to-late 90s Too Far Too Cares fountain of youth. 13 studio performances that define their live rep to a ‘t’, Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond’s compositions also double as rock radio hits that should be—and never are, unfairly. Grand Theater 2 is loaded with 97s swagger and sweet melodies that are sure to soak your summer brain for weeks on end.
Rhett’s written many great songs but Perfume could be his finest moment as a traditional pop writer to date. Blending Texas charm, folk and pop leanings, and a never ending well of lyrical wit and romance, it’s heaven up against Murray’s harmony- and The 97s have never sounded better. Many moments approach Modern Americana pop bliss, Manhattan (I’m Done), No Simple Machine, Visiting Hours and The Actor. With White Port and How Lovely All It Was, Murry again provides the perfect balance needed on a 97s record to Rhett’s humorous bite. Hammond fondly sings on the second to last song of V2, If I don’t see you again this way tomorrow, and the body doesn’t break under the sorrow I swallow, I’ll see you one old tomorrow, bye and bye., reminding listeners that maybe this is as good as it gets— and the 97s know it.
Miller & Hammond as composers (aka The Ranchero Brothers) should be considered as great a modern American writing duo as Louris/Olson, Farrar/Tweedy (Uncle Tupelo) & Tweedy/Bennett (WIlco), Welch/Rawlings, Daniel/Eno (Spoon),while getting better with age and each subsequent record. Typical topics that surface throughout V2 deal with aging, regrets, heartbreak, lost loves, present moments, pretending and more aging, and well, drinking; yes, it’s been done before—but few have done it better than the 97s. Ken and Philip shouldn’t be ignored either; the ever present fender reverb and cymbol crashes provide the 97s a performance spine many bands much younger than them lack.
It’s pretty obvious on V2 that the 97s know they’re very lucky to be together still in 2011; these same 4 guys from Texas, creating records as vital to their fans, as they are to themselves now, coming up on 20 years together as a band (1993). ‘On the hootenany, Mats’ like conclusion, You Call It Rain, Rhett positively concludes, You call it too late, I call it a chance for a second wind. We can go back, way back to the way it was way back when. Right now is a pretty good time. Right now is a great time for fans new and old with releases as energetic as 2010’s V1 and this, V2.
The Grand Theatre Volume 2 proves again why the Old 97s are one of the greatest running rock n’ roll bands, live— and on record. With that, hop in your car, roll down the windows, play Perfume at the loudest volume, sing along to Murray and Rhett on the chorus, It’s a beautiful day outside, and then maybe get arrested to an Old 97s song. You’ll have a hard time getting these melodies out of your head, so face the facts with open ears: life is always better with an Old 97s record in it.