The Grand Theatre: Volume One

The Grand Theatre: Volume One

Are any of your favorite albums the umpteenth release by a band nearing its second decade together? Likely not. For most groups that survive that long, ennui sets in as a youthful all-for-one attitude is replaced with mutual professional tolerance. But for some, the realization that fame isn’t waiting around the corner is liberating. Take Dallas’s OLD 97’S, who have rattled their bones to come out swinging on their eighth album, THE GRAND THEATRE: VOLUME ONE (New West). The 97’s have a typical story: bar band beginnings (in 1993); early indie success; failed major label tenure; a near breakup, when singer Rhett Miller focused on his solo career; and finally reconciliation and another indie contract. During that time, the quartet has ventured from exhilarating cowpunk to Anglophile power pop and, now, back to exhilarating cowpunk. Being part of a group seems to rein in Miller’s errant impulses; where his solo releases are marred by facile lyrics, much of The Grand Theatre is as good as anything the 97’s have ever done. “The Magician” and “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” are taut, funny rockers; “A State of Texas” is an anthemic crowd-pleaser; and “Champaign, Illinois” is a clever if silly remake of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” with Miller’s new lyrics (“No, you will not go to Heaven / You’ll go to Champaign, Illinois”) approved by the man himself, giving Miller the distinction of co-writing a Dylan song. This sounds like a band with nothing to lose. “Here we are,” they’re saying, “and this is what we do.”

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