Old 97’s: Twelfth (ATO) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, November 28th, 2020  

Old 97’s

Twelfth

ATO

Aug 20, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Just to inventory a few of the jewels in Old 97’s crown before we proceed. The band—which still has all of its original members intact more than a quarter of a century on—reigns as the best touring bar band in America. They can also lay claim to the best rewrite of a Dylan song in “Champaign, Illinois” and are authors of one of the early alt-country classic albums, Too Far To Care. And as the cover of the group’s twelfth album, simply titled Twelfth, subtly brings to your attention, both football player Roger Staubach and Old 97’s are from Dallas—not Austin.  

A dozen albums in, you don’t necessarily expect a band to top their best work to date and though that holds true for Twelfth, the album has more than its fair share of charms. Advertising leader Rhett Miller’s newfound sobriety, there is an overwhelming sense of energy and alertness to the proceedings, but that has always been a hallmark of the band. Philip Peeples’ opening drumbeats on “The Dropouts” are pummeling enough to give you even odds of keeping your grip on your Shiner Bock. The song unfolds with characteristic runs, tumbles, and sure-fire melodies on par with the group’s best. 

One of the joys of any Old 97’s albums is picking out Miller’s turns of phrase. 2017’s “Jesus Loves You” got him a bit of attention for the line “He can walk on water, but I can kiss you on the sand.” Miller returns to the good book on “Absence (What We’ve Got)”—“The water turns to wine, just like in the Bible…the wine turns into whiskey, and the whiskey turns to tears, it’s been this way for years.” But Miller’s best songwriting moment comes on the gentle reminisce of “Belmont Hotel” which mirrors a salvaged relationship with that of the refurbished motor lodge. Of the hotel’s less seemly days Miller quips “the windows were busted, big holes in the wall, mad men and wildlife was roaming the halls.” That’s some real modern day cowboy poetry for ya. 

The imagery of “Diamonds On Neptune” holds up a little better than the song itself, but if a track emerges here as a live set staple it’s likely to be “Bottle Rocket Baby.” Ken Bethea’s guitar locks in hard on a straightforward rave up on par with any they’ve concocted to date. Custom made for Miller’s mini-windmills and sweat shedding head shakes, it’s sure to get its fair share of play. Affable bassist and band spokesperson Murry Hammond always takes a few turns on lead vocals and Twelfth proves no exception.  Of his contributions here, the high plains crunch of “Happy Hour” turns out best. 

The hapless heroes of Miller’s songs rarely end up with the girl or the cat, but the band itself continues to march forward as consistently as they come. Twelfth makes for a fine listen even if it doesn’t turn over any new musical leaves. Staubach always did his best work in the fourth quarter and Old 97’s show no sign of fading down the stretch either. A year on the bench will probably leave them well rested for their next run of dates and the songs from Twelfth will fit right in. (www.old97s.com              

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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