Release Date: Jul 5, 2011
Record label: New West Records
On their 2010 album, The Grand Theatre Vol. 1, the Old 97's per- formed new material live at a Dallas theater, then took the songs that went over best and recorded them in an Austin studio. Consisting of songs left over from Vol. 1, this second installment places Rhett Miller's articulate, off-the-cuff songs right between the composure of the control room and the looseness of the barroom.
Originally intended to be a double-album, The Grand Theatre was ultimately split into two halves: 2010’s Vol. 1 and its equally tuneful sequel, Vol. 2. The Old 97’s have spent years combining the dusty twang of Texas country with the melodic jangle of British pop, but both Grand Theatre albums bring that sound into sharper focus, presenting a band that wears its middle-age with style.
Last year the Old 97’s released what amounted to a comeback album. The band workshopped the songs on The Grand Theatre Vol. 1 at the titular venue in Dallas and recorded in Austin. Perhaps due to the luxuries of the setting or the renewed vigor of the band, that album captured the raw energy of their ‘90s output and re-emphasized the power-quartet democracy between the musicians, placing Murry Hammon’s shambling sideman charisma and Ken Bethea’s elegant guitar licks on equal footing as Rhett Miller’s witty lyrics and exasperated vocals.
The Old 97s popped up in the mid-‘90s alongside other alt-country acts, including some long gone (Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo) and the still-toughing-it-out (Drive By Truckers, Bottle Rockets). Here in 2011, the Dallas natives undoubtedly belong with the former. Despite being nearly 20 years deep into twangy, alternative rock-based careers, Rhett Miller and company have clearly been wracking their brains, challenging the traditional LP format, which they’ve tackled eight times prior.
When The Grand Theatre Volume One was released last October, the Old 97's promised that they had written and recorded so much strong new material as to necessitate a double-disc set. The music business being what it is, they were encouraged to deliver two separate albums. One problem they faced, and it was a good one to have, was that TGTVO was their strongest effort in years.