Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 | musiX
While the genre never quite took off the way record labels had probably hoped, some of the bands did all right for themselves … or at least spawned bands that would go on to make some pretty decent twangified noise. From the ashes of Uncle Tupelo came Wilco. Ryan Adams left Whiskeytown to become the much-loved/hated, overly blogged, Mandy Moore-marrying fellow he is today. The Old 97′s? Well, they’re still the Old 97′s … although it’s not exactly the same band it was back in the ’90s.
Before going on to dabble in slick-produced power pop on major label outings like Fight Songs and Satellite Rides, the Old 97′s released Wreck Your Life on Bloodshot Records. It was a perfect fit. Bloodshot—founded in 1994 by Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller—tapped into the energy and spirit of punk rock as well as classic country, releasing records from Alejandro Escovedo, The Bottle Rockets and the Waco Brothers—not to mention Ryan Adams’ 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker, the label’s best-selling album to date.
Bloodshot is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year with the release of Wreck Your Life … and Then Some: The Complete Bloodshot Recordings. The double-disc includes a remastered reissue of the Old 97′s 1995 classic Wreck Your Life, as well as outtakes from the WYL sessions that ended up on 2000′s Early Tracks EP. It’s the first time Wreck Your Life has been released on sweet, sweet vinyl … and just in time for Christmas (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
Wreck Your Life is arguably the band’s best, a full-throttle ride through sleazy punk rock hubs and Wild West ghost towns—although the pop that would eventually take a front seat in their later output still lurks in the shadows. “W.I.F.E.”—originally released as a 7-inch and later re-recorded for Wreck Your Life—sounds as if it could have been peeled from Buck Owens‘ You’re For Me. There’s even a sunshine-y chorus in the murder ballad “The Other Shoe” where a cheating lover meets her maker by way of “a blue-steel .45.” The song is sandwiched between a couple of cow-punk burners in “Victoria” and “Doreen,” the latter of which wallows in familiar territory of guitarist/vocalist Rhett Miller‘s book-smart, forlorn lyrics. In a vast sea of great ’90s records, this one is definitely worth revisiting.
While the Old 97′s 1994 debut Hitchhike to Rhome (released on Dallas indie label Big Iron Records) lacks the energy of WYL, it still captures the band in its fiery youth … back when Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard covers were fair game. “St. Ignatius” and “Hands Off” feel right at home next to covers of Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’ 1942 classic “Miss Molly,” while the gritty shuffle of “504″ and “If My Heart Was a Car” tap into those ’70s punk influences.
Amazingly, the Old 97′s are still together making records—good ones, too, as 2008′s Blame it On Gravity split the middle between the band’s country and pop eras. Perhaps the Old 97′s longevity is due to the fact that they never made anything that didn’t come naturally … not to mention they always sounded like they were having a lot more fun than most of their contemporaries.
“Victoria” – Old 97′s (Wreck Your Life)
“The Other Shoe” – Old 97′s (Wreck Your Life)
“W.I.F.E.” – Old 97′s (7-inch version)
“504″ – Old 97′s (Hitchhike to Rhome)