The Grand Theater Volume 2

Less than a year after releasing The Grand Theater Vol. 1, The Old 97s follow up with its companion disc, The Grand Theater Vol. 2. Most of the 13 songs were recorded during the same sessions as the first disc although the extra year allowed the band to fine tune the tracks as well as add a few more. Recorded at Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas, Texas, the concept was to capture a live music experience sans audience. The sessions then moved to Treefoot Studios in Austin for the final product. Why not release the album as a double disc? “It didn't feel right. Double albums don't carry the same coolness factor they once did,” says lead singer Rhett Miller.

Most of the songs were written during a European tour the band shared with Steve Earle which might explains the albums’ mix of spunky alt-country rockers and British punk. “Perfume,” the album’s first single, features a honky tonk piano interlude reminiscent of the old honky tonk arrangements of country troubadours like Conway Twitty. “Marquita” is a minute and a half instrumental romp of blaring guitars and machine-gun drumming. Followed by “Bright Spark (See What I Mean),” the 2 tracks could have fallen off a Clash playlist. So goes Volume 2, as the songs ricochet from influence to influence and singer to singer. Miller takes most of the leads but Murray Hamilton offers a couple of tracks that offer more of the standard country side of the band’s persona. “White Port” begins with a sea shanty chorus but soon rolls into a full blown country yodel – blending both the old and new empire in one song!

As usual The Old 97s songs are inhabited by the woe-begotten heartbroken men and women. Rhett Miller’s lyrics, more so than ever, are full of piss and vinegar attitude. “He said can I buy you a drink/what he meant was can I buy you,” he sings on “No Simple Machine” a song about women who chose poorly in the relationship department. Or, in “The Actor,” he snidely remarks, “The actor sits in a windowless room applying his make-up/remembering his friends/their all dead now or married with children/it’s the very same thing where the actor’s concerned.”

Being that the vocals were recorded live and left unaltered The Grand Theater Vol. 2 is full of gasping breathes, yelling, and band interaction. Beside Miller and Hamilton, Ken Bethea and Philip Peebles – the original line-up of the band – are joined by producer Salim Nourallah, who also worked on the band’s past three albums.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)