Eleven records is an incredible feat for a band, but when you struggle with success and record companies throughout your entire career, you too would have a lot to write about. Such is the story with the Old 97’s, the Dallas, Texas alt-country band that has been around for nearly fourteen years now, survived by a fan base built mostly through word of mouth. After not reaching the success that Elektra Records had hoped, and consequently getting axed, they were picked up by New West Records in 2004, who deliver their newest effort, Blame It On Gravity.
The new record is a welcome addition to their sprawling catalog, and for fans of the folk/country inspired nineties rock sound, Blame It On Gravity carries that tradition wonderfully. Given that they were born out of the same sub-scene that helped get Wilco started, parallels could be drawn, but I stress, the Old 97’s are very much in their own realm as a band.
Album opener “The Fool” is a great kick off for the record. There’s an influx of that classic chugging, country beat coming from the guitars and drums, with just enough of a nineties alternative influence that gives the band their unique distinction. The follow up, “Dance with Me”, however, is the band poorly attempting a radio hit, and it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the thirteen tracks. All is redeemed though with “No Baby I”, the highlight of the record, and a great steady ballad that sounds as if Bob Dylan or Mike Ness had written it. Lyrically, the Old 97’s have never seemed to have such an issue, and this record is no exception. Simple, poetic, and relating, without ever getting cheesy.
Unfortunately, the record does suffers from the classic musical ailment known as the dead center. There is a period in the middle of the record, fortunately just a few songs, that gets boring and typical. Towards the end, things turn back around again with “I Will Remain”, which marks the beginning to a solid set of closing songs. “Early In the Morning” is another great example of what alt-country is all about, while “The Easy Way” takes a bluesy, more rock oriented turn for the record, given the solos. Altogether, these three closing tracks bring a wonderful end to a record that almost lost it.
“Dance With Me”