While the Old 97's have as recognizable a sound as anyone who came out of the '90s alt-country scene, you can't accuse them of repeating themselves. On 2014's Most Messed Up, their tenth studio album, the band sounded proudly rowdy and plenty scrappy, ready to make trouble and have a good time doing it. Three years later, 2017's Graveyard Whistling finds them delivering a more polished product, coupled with a firm sense of consequence about the bad results of the pursuit of good times.
You can't call the eleventh album from these pop loving cowpunks a comeback; partially because they never went away but especially since the quartet's previous release, 2014's Most Messed Up, was such a potent reminder that the once Texas based guys are probably never going to go soft on us. Still, it's hard to resist the temptation to consider Graveyard Whistling a partial return to older glories, if only because the Old 97's decamped to the same studio used to record their 1996 major label debut Too Far to Care. But once you push play and the galloping surf/twang guitars of "I Don't Want to Die in this Town" blow out of the speakers, prodded by a steamrolling rhythm section, you'll want to strap on your seat belt as frontman Rhett Miller urges the girl working behind the lunch counter in his small hometown to come along as he wants to "put the past in a rear view mirror.
The Old 97’s have released their theological album. Or at least you might think so glancing at song titles like "Jesus Loves You" and "Good With God". After 2014’s hard-livin’-and-proud rock ‘n’ roll, the band paused to dig into some spirituality? Well, no, but with Graveyard Whistling, they’ve taken the time to put together their best album since the first volume of The Grand Theatre by getting back to their mix of country and rock.
Although they're regarded as vanguards of the '90s alt-country scene, Old 97's have had to bust their proverbial asses over the past two decades in order to amass their fan base, as 2014's Most Messed Up became their first LP to crack Billboard's Top 50.
Almost a dozen albums into their career, the Dallas band returned to the same studio they recorded their 1996 masterpiece Too Far to Care in for their latest, Graveyard Whistling. Over 42 unrelenting minutes, Old 97's hoot through 11 twangy tracks, rarely relaxing their stride; numbers like "I Don't Wanna Die in This Town," "Good With God" (a raucous duet between band leader Rhett Miller and singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile) and "Drinking Song" are all punctuated by the same quick-step drum beat.
As the Old 97's get deeper into their career, the question could be asked: Where does the band go from here? Do they try and shake up the magic formula? Or do they carry on in the tradition of meat-and-potatoes bands like AC/DC, where you know exactly what you're getting, and love them all the more for it. Since forming in Dallas, Texas back in 1993, the Old 97's have managed to find new ways to fiddle with the country-punk-pop they perfected on classic records like Wreck Your Life and Too Far To Care. They dabbled in British pop on 1999's Fight Songs and 2001's Satellite Rides.
With Graveyard Whistling, Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller is his most comfortable self, mic-slinging in the stirrups of a rowdy, fleshed-out sound. Thanks to his boys, who by no small feat have been at it for nearly 25 years without a single change-up, Miller and Co. can be their best bad-boys-next-door, showcasing their signature rock and roll alt-twang as naturally as they breathe Texas air.
The Old 97s are a kick-ass live band, all four of them more than capable on their instruments and, despite a couple of decades on the long road, still fuelled by fiery animal spirits. The main songwriter, Rhett Miller, knows his way around a hook and a line, so that songs that sound like dumb cow-punk joy are often knotty and complicated, pitted with literary allusions and sharp cultural references. Two years ago, after some doubts about whether the band could continue, the Old 97s came out with a raucous winner in Most Messed Up, an album so tightly written, so exuberantly played that you felt bad about thinking they were done.