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2010: 15 of the Best. #8 . . .

December 8, 2010

#8: Old 97’s – Let the Whiskey Take the Reins

From: The Grand Theatre, Volume One
Released: October 12, 2010
Label: New West
Buy it: Here.

In the summer of 2009, I caught “An Evening with Old 97’s” up in Madison. It was a phenomenal idea for a show — the band’s openers were two band members. You got a solo set from Murry Hammond, a solo set from Rhett Miller, and then a full on show by the Old 97’s. I was down in the front row during that show, and there’s something I’ll always remember about it. While Murry was doing his opening bit — very old, almost haunting country/folk ballads and near-ancient Carter family material, I saw Rhett Miller sitting in the wings watching his bandmate intently. Rhett was touting his 3rd solo album at the time, and he’d spent the better part of the aughts establishing himself as a fiery solo act to match his fiery frontman status, but here he was seemingly transfixed by his bandmate’s very quiet approach. I fully believe this translated onto the Old 97’s latest in the form of “Let the Whiskey Take the Reins.” Whereas Rhett’s material over the years has been of the shouty and more impassioned variety (even ballads like “Your Nervous Heart” see him going for the jugular vocally), Murry’s always been content with a near-whisper sigh delivery on the bulk of his material. Rhett goes for a Murry-style delivery here and the result is pretty stunning. Not only does he come off like a pained-almost-threatening guy who may have had too many at the local, he sounds really affecting. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical Rhett-led Old 97’s song, but a big reason it works is because it’s such a noticeable change of pace. If this were to become the norm, well, methinks it might lose a bit of its charm. And besides, we fans can’t scream along to this like we can “Big Brown Eyes.” Nevertheless, this is a welcome surprise for an established band that’s pretty comfortable in its ways.

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