Old 97's The Grand Theatre

Old 97's The Grand Theatre
Back in the '90s, this Dallas, TX band were in the first ranks of the so-called alt-country/Americana movement, but their career gradually lost focus. Later albums were uneven, main songwriter Ryan Miller pursued a parallel solo career and the band took a four-year hiatus at one point. It's pleasing, then, to report that they return in full stride on The Grand Theatre, arguably their best effort yet. Things begin rousingly with the title track, a rocker with a Clash-like feel. Things are even friskier on first single "Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)." The big, resonant guitar twang of "You Were Born to be in Battle" sees them returning to country rock terrain and there's a refreshing diversity to subsequent tracks as well. Life on the road is described wittily on "Champaign, Illinois" ("the bottom line's been snorted"), a track they acknowledge owes much to "Desolation Row," while their homage to Texas, the rockin' "A State of Texas," shows they're happiest at home. It's not all just bourbon'n'coke revelry though, and they let their sensitive side show on "Love is What You Are," a lovely ballad, and haunting closer "The Beauty Marks." This is one fine record that shows they can still teach young contenders a trick or two. (New West)