Hailing from Dallas, Texas, the Old 97’s have been putting their raucous spin on what we used to call alt-country for 25 years now.
Featuring ageless lead singer Stuart Ransom “Rhett” Miller II, a former teenaged songwriting prodigy who retains a gift for slightly dirty one-liners, and guitarist Ken Bethea, who alternates hooks and snarling leads, they’ve remained remarkably consistent during that time: you could pick up literally any Old 97’s album from any part of their career and walk away humming.
And so while I think that their three Elektra albums are their best — each one better than the other, climaxing with 2001’s immortal Satellite Rides — I also think that the the records they’ve made since then retain the charm of the earlier records, if not the shock of the new.
And so while — or because — I initially missed 1994’s Hitchhike to Rhome & 1995’s Wreck Your Life, my love for the Old 97’s starts with the opening guitar spiral of “Timebomb,” which establishes 1997’s Wreck Your Life and the Old 97’s as the the punkiest (or at least most energetic) alt-country band since early Uncle Tupelo.
I got a timebomb, in my mind, Mom
I hear it ticking but I don’t know why
I call the police, but they don’t like me
I hear ’em whispering when I walk by
Ohhhhhh ohhhhhh oohhhh
With drummer Phillip Peeples riding his snare drum like there’s no tomorrow and bassist Murry Hammond doing everything he can to hold it together with both his bass and his “oooooooooooooh” backing vocals, “Timebomb” sounds like a whole series of timebombs, continually exploding, especially when when they barrel into the chorus:
Having her on my brain’s
Like getting hit by a train
She’s gonna kill me
Miller utterly kills it on that chorus: alternating holding long notes on “Celessssssssssssste” or letting his voice falsetto out from sheer desperation. It’s a helluva performance, and was absolutely a great way to introduce the Old 97’s to the wider audience they totally deserved but never really got.
“Timebomb” performed live in 2008
“Timebomb” performed live in 2017
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