Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Although they were briefly slotted as alt-country, what Dallas's Old 97's really are is less complicated. They're a pop band, a song band--smart, youthful, energetic, winsome. The guitar-guitar-bass-drums ensemble's Satellite Rides (Elektra) differs from 1999's Fight Songs not in consistency--every track on both albums is catchy at the very least--but in band dynamics and lyrical optimism. In theory, these virtues should make up for the studio lacquer and booming beats they want no part of. In historical fact, the Beatles themselves would be hard-pressed to crack the production values of today's pop radio. So there's no guarantee that the surging King of All the World, the gently salacious Buick City Complex, or the never-say-never Designs on You is coming to a Top 20 station near you. You'll just have to buy the album, learn the words, and shout along at a gig with all the other Old 97's fans, a fast-growing subculture of guys and gals who know a good tune when they get to hear one.


It figured that eventually the shape-shifting electronic jazz invented by Miles Davis in the early '70s would find its imitators. It didn't figure that the best of these--Jon Hassell, Tim Hagans--would also be trumpeters. And it definitely didn't figure that the very best would be Norwegian. Yet that's how the score stands with Nils Petter Molvaer's second album, Solid Ether (ECM). If guys named Rune Arnesen and Audun Erlien can get this funky, maybe we're all citizens of one world after all.


Pushing 60 and still got the juice: Maria Muldaur on Richland Woman Blues (Stony Plain). Over 60 and ditto: Etta James on Matriarch of the Blues (Private Music).

Playboy, Mar. 2001


Feb. 2001 Apr. 2001