Monday, June 2, 2008

Review: Old 97's - Blame It On Gravity

I may not admit this often, but I grew up on country music. Garth Brooks rang through my pa's car stereo through my early life and I sang along with "Rodeo" so much that the damn song is still emblazoned in my skull. I could probably sing it right now. In fact, I know I could sing it right now.

What does Garth Brooks have to do with anything? Well, I suppose those early years of listening to twang combined with my later years listening to grunge pretty well explains my positive disposition towards the alternative-country genre. After all, alternative country at it's best should be taking the positive aspects of country music and combining it with the drive of rock 'n roll. Basically, you need to take the drawl out of the country vocals and dirty up your distortion pedals a bit more. Oh, and no songs about dogs or trucks - those are a no-go. If you look at it this way, no band does it better than the Old 97's.

Blame it on Gravity is the sixth proper album from the Old 97's, the first since 2004's Drag It Up. We find the boys returning to their roots and turning it up to 11 for most of the album. This is quite welcome after Drag It Up, an album which I can describe no better than as a "downer".

The album kicks off in a rockin' enough style with The Fool and Dance With Me. Both of these tracks move and groove, you'll likely find yourself shakin' your hips when Dance With Me comes on if they aren't already gyrating. After that 1-2 punch we see the boys turn it down a bit with No Baby I and My Two Feet. No Baby I delivers the album's namesake in the chorus with the lovely line:

"You've got these tears/that fall like pearls/blame it on gravity/blame it on bein' a girl".

The rest of the album alternates pretty well with "rockers" and slow songs. We see the boys combining the country, rock and surf elements on Early Morning for what is quite possibly the best mix of the genres theyi've ever pulled off. The song itself is a microcosm of the album and genius segway from the first to the second half. The One finishes out the proper album. Rather than finishing on a somber, acoustic number as most bands do, the boys chose to give us one last up-tempo rocker to remember them by.

The aspect that has surprised me the most about this album is the songs sung by Murray. I have generally found myself skipping most "Murray songs" on other Old 97's records - not because they aren't "good" songs, but more because of my love for Rhett's voice. I never have found a reason to listen through most of Murray's songs when I know I can hear Rhett's voice on the next track. This is far from the case on Blame it on Gravity though. This Beautiful Thing and Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue are not only some of the best "Murray songs" on any Old 97's album, they are two of the best tracks on this album - far and away better than nearly any song by Rhett.

We've finally found what the Old 97's are all about on this album. Alive and Wired captured them at their best - live - but for one reason or another none of their albums have been able to capture that ferocity in a studio setting. You can feel the raw energy throughout but the songs still feel as polished and lush as anything from Fight Songs. The songwriting is sensational and each track is a true keeper. No fillers here, folks.

There's no more need for a mix tape if you're trying to describe what alt-country is to a newcomer. Blame it On Gravity not only defines the Old 97's, it very well describes the entire genre. It's that good.

[mp3] Early Morning
[mp3] Dance With Me

Buy the album: Amazon | iTunes

Visit the Old 97's online: Official | Myspace
Buy their music: Amazon | iTunes


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