The Grand Theater Volume 2
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.