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Band Love: The Old 97’s/Rhett Miller

October 17, 2008

The Old 97’s and Rhett Miller, like a lot of other bands or singers I like, have had a weird relationship with me.  I really like them both.  And I have for a while.  But I didn’t start actively listening to them until this year.  And I couldn’t tell you why.  I had one song by them for about 3 years, that song being “Question”, possibly the sappiest song in the world.  Which is a good thing.

Anyways, I got this song from watching Scrubs, where it’s in a fantastic engagement scene.  And I liked it for years, but never pursued anything else by them.  I had heard other things by them, but never really listened to them.  Then one day I go to Best Buy and on a total whim purchase Alive & Wired, their 2-disc live album.  And it was so good.  Especially Timebomb.  After that it was like falling in love.  I bought the new album: Blame It On Gravity, their most famous album: Too Far Too Care.  And these filled my summer.  Rhett Miller’s two solo albums both ended up in my iTunes after a fellow Ryan Adams/Ed Harcourt fan recommended them to me.  The other day I got Drag It Up by the Old 97’s, which I’d heard good things about.

So, why are they so good?  Everything they do has a level of excitement or joy in it that few artists can claim to have.  Listening to their stuff makes you just know that they had fun making it.  A lot of fun, in fact.  Rhett Miller’s lyrics for both his solo stuff and Old 97’s stuff is witty, smart, and enthusiastic without being full of itself.  i.e. from The Fool on Blame It On Gravity

“He came from Phoenix in a borrowed VW bug
He was the kid voted most likely not to return
To Phoenix in a borrowed VW”

And he has so much better, in Timebomb, Our Love, and so on.

The sound of the Old 97’s is also pretty enthusiastic.  It’s pretty rock oriented, but a mix of equal parts twang and garage.  His solo stuff though loses that, and focuses more on a power pop sound, which works just as well.  It’d sound more fleshed out with the band behind him, but that’s not so much what he drives for.

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