Concerts and Shows at The Magic Bag
Old 97's with Joshua Ray Walker
Friday, March 29 - Doors 8pm - $28 adv.
In 1996, Old 97's recorded Too Far to Care. It was their major-label debut—following two independent releases. But rather than venture into some state-of-the-art studio in New York or LA, the band decamped to Village Productions in Tornillo, Texas, a remote facility in the middle of two thousand acres of pecan trees near the Mexican border. Now over twenty years later, they have returned to record their eleventh studio album, Graveyard Whistling. "[Too Far To Care] is the sound that best defined us," says Rhett Miller, the lead singer and primary songwriter. And so when it came time for the band—which still consists of the same four members: Miller, guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murry Hammond, and drummer Philip Peeples—to record their newest endeavor, producer Vance Powell brought up the idea of returning to Tornillo. "We knew instantly that it was the perfect move," says Miller. "We weren't trying to remake Too Far to Care, but to make something where fans would say, 'This band hasn't lost a step in twenty-some years.'" The result is the eleven songs of Graveyard Whistling, from a group that has earned the respect and veneration as one of the pioneers of the alt-country movement, while still retaining the raucous energy, deceptive cleverness. Returning to Tornillo was more than just a novelty, and proved key to the album's direction. At some point renamed Sonic Ranch, the studio has been expanded and updated, but the band went back into the same recording space. They even stayed in the same bedrooms— "It was a beautiful feeling of completing a circle—we're the same people, but we had grown so much as bandmates and friends. It really made me believe in the power of experience and that you do get better with time. We're capable of so much more now than we were two decades prior, After all this time, Old 97's also found themselves in the interesting position of following up the most critically acclaimed, highest charting record of their career, 2014's Most Messed Up. The emotional range and musical scope of Graveyard Whistling also benefits from the contributions of some remarkable co-writers. Miller had long wanted to collaborate with Nicole Atkins when they found themselves with one hour together backstage at Chicago's City Winery. Her sketch of a chorus and a wordless bridge developed into "Those Were the Days," the album's closer. "Drinkin' Song," co-written with Butch Walker, revisits territory that has long been at the heart of the Old 97's work. "I've made a career out of singing songs that glorify drinking," says Miller, "so I wanted to battle with the idea of drinking as a lifestyle." Setting out to respond to the themes raised on Most Messed Up (which Rolling Stone described as a "round of airtight songs celebrating life-as-sublime-train-wreck"), Miller says that they considered album titles like The Hangover or The Aftermath. "The trick Old 97's have held on to is to take a song that may have a darker theme and present it as something to be screamed along to in a club. I don't want to sing sad songs in a sad way. You don't even realize there's a tombstone sticking out in the middle of it until the eighth or tenth listen."