Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-02-11

2011-02-11

Old 97's: The Grand Theatre Volume One (New West, 2010) The punk-come-lately intensity of Rhett Miller's first three songs is so far from their silly old alt-country pigeonhole that when second songwriter Murry Hammond moseys to the mic to deliver the Marty-Robbins-come-even-later "You Were Born to Be in Battle" they could be a separate-and-unequal band. After that, however, Miller pipes down without giving up. He credits "Champaign, Illinois" to Bob Dylan for the excellent reason that it (thoroughly) rewrites "Desolation Row," and if Uncle Bob really wants to shake things up some night he should master the lyric, which at this point in history is more apropos than the original. Soon Hammond's "You Smoke Too Much" is fitting right in. As together as can be expected, and as Miller requests with a hint of desperation, "Please Hold On While the Train Is Moving." A-

Old 97's: Mimeograph (New West EP, 2010) Well after you realize they have no business covering "Rocks Off" because they're not the Rolling Stones, "Rocks Off" continues to rock. Then there's a Fratellis song about fandom rescued from Britfan oblivion, an early R.E.M. song with every word enunciated by lit guy Rhett Miller, and David Bowie's greatest song with the possible exception of "TVC-15" (which, really now, isn't the Old 97's' kind of thing). A cover band? Why not? B+

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