Making a Grand Entrance
or my favorite band boys usher in their new CD, The Grand Theatre, Volume 1
Okay, so two things you know about me already:
1. I'm just a schlub, not an experienced music reviewer
2. I absolutely adore the Old 97's and speak of them ad naseum.
If they were a cult, I'd don the purple robe (even though it clashes horribly with my "naturally" red locks) and drink the funky Kool Aid.
Okay, I wouldn't drink the nasty elixir unless it had vodka in it, and I'd probably strong-arm them into going with a cult-friendly red or a lovely french blue robe because, you know, everybody looks fetching in blue. But I do evangelize to anyone and everyone about their greatness. So prepare for the great fan-girl gush.
You've been warned.
The new Old 97's CD, The Grand Theatre arrives on doorsteps next Tuesday, but the nice folks at Public Radio KXT in Dallas are streaming it live for all to hear here.
Brevity is not in my vocabulary when it comes to discussing all things Old 97's and Rhett so you may want to get comfortable and grab a cocktail. This is going to be long and verbose, much like the start of this post.
Well, I've had a few days to listen repeatedly to The Grand Theatre and all I can say is this...
OMG!!! I LOVE this record!
It has so much muscle. I'm not kidding. It is so strong its bulging biceps are tearing up the paper packaging!
Some online folks have called this collection indie, raw, powerful. Whatever. It's full of life. Bold and tasty and filled to the brim with Rhett's signature smart, witty, heartbreaking lyrical genius accompanied by driving drum beats, guitar licks and baselines to die for.
It's so different in the very best of ways. I get a strong sense of urgency about it. It has a passion and energy, even in the quieter songs, that most studio productions lack. Kudos to producer Salim Nourallah for successfully capturing that which makes seeing the Old 97's play live so intoxicating.
It's criminal how underrated and overlooked this band is. They deserve so much more attention than they get. Perhaps this offering will change that. Anywho, on to the main event...
Okay, you ready? Are you comfy? Got enough to eat and drink for the long haul of this track-by-track review? Good. Here goes...
The Grand Theatre has a great Clash sound and feel to it. It comes at you full force then quiets to a hum before surging on to the end. Great start to get the blood flowing.
Every Night Is Friday Night (without you) is so much fun! Its driving power punk beat gets in your head and propels you to the dance floor. And Murry's baseline is a thing of beauty. It kicks! I confess I don't really have a clue what the lyrics mean outside of the chorus, but who cares. I can't sit still or stay quiet for this one.
The Magician is another fantastic mover originally intended for Katy Perry. The lyrics are brilliantly uncomplicated in their desire and have a compelling rhythm, especially the chorus making it impossible not to sing along. "You ask what I want and I say you.." *sigh* Major swoon worthy. Ken's guitar work is full-on impressive. I love the speed. A great rocking trifecta to start off the album and get you amped up and moving. Miss Katy's loss is definitely our collective gain.
You Were Born to Be In a Battle - Usually it takes me a longer while to warm up to Murry's songs, mainly because they're a little more country than I like, but I'm okay with this homage to Johnny Cash. I like its steady rhythm. A good breather
after the amped up start.
The Dance Class - Agoraphobics in love. A familiar theme of unattainable love cleverly cast out in a very different net. It's manic and panicked and full of doubt. The line "I'm here on edge. Trying to make it with a beautiful girl that I got no chance with in the dance class" makes me laugh out loud considering the universal appeal of its author.
Let The Whiskey Take The Reins - I am so IN LOVE with this song! Rhett told us at one of his shows that he made a flippant remark one night on stage that he was just going to let the whiskey take the reins. His good friend thought that would make a great title and bugged him until he wrote this. We should all thank her for keeping at him. It's smoky voiced, liquor-ladden lament is irresistible, especially accompanied by Ken's soulful guitar wail. Throw in Philip's steady cymbal-less cadence, Murry's baseline and Rhett's quiet, sultry vocal... this song smolders. It is perfection!
Champaign, Illinois - In leaner years long ago, driving their van on a dark road in the middle of the night, Rhett wrote his own lyrics to Bob Dylan's Desolation Row in an attempt to keep himself awake while his band mates slept. It may be Bob Dylan's tune, but it's all Old 97's charm. I don't miss the harmonica one bit. Although it might be fun to see if he could play one. Ha Ha!
(side note: unlike other Old 97's offerings, this is the only song on the CD that mentions death)
You Smoke Too Much - I like this Murry tune... a lot. It shows hints of his pop influences. It bounces.
The State of Texas is just a great Old 97's song and a guaranteed crowd pleaser in the largest state of the lower 48. The energy makes it appealing to the rest of us. It's a rollicking good time.
Love Is What You Are is just lovely. There's a beautiful underlying sadness in his devotion. "Love is what you are, not what you do. I know what you are, and I love you."
Please Hold On While the Train Is Moving - Again so different for them. I love how it's rocking full-throttle (like zipping on a bullet train) then derails into this trippy little pop song (the layover between flights perhaps) before jumping on the next crazy, head-spinning mode of transport (a Boeing 747). It really conveys the hectic pace of one whose life is constantly on the move, racing through one terminal after another to get back home just to turn around and do it all over again. The big breath at the very end says it all. That's a very nice touch. Sounds like Rhett's life. I suspect this is the most autobiographical song on the album.
The Beauty Marks - At first I wasn't so keen about this one, but it's growing on me. Mr. Miller sure knows how to set an atmosphere! When I listen to this, I feel like I'm sitting at the bar in a smoky pub, sipping a cocktail to stave off a chill from the rainy night, watching these two flirt and dance around their desire. It's an interesting choice for the last track. This song is the complete opposite of the start of the album in style and pace, which was probably the goal.
Ken summed it up well...The Grand Theatre begins with a roar and ends in a whisper.
I'm not just saying this because I'm a huge fan, but this is a brilliant collection of work. If you don't believe me you can read a real critic's review here and I pinky swear I wrote this before I read his.
Unlike most bands who've been together for 15 years, my boys get better with age. They are hitting their stride, big time and this is only half of their effort. Volume 2 comes out in May! I can only imagine what awesomeness awaits us all then.
2011 is going to be HUGE for them...and us. We're lucky to have a ticket for the ride.
Please hold on because this Old 97's train is moving!!