Old 97′s, Hit By A Train: The Best Of Old 97′s
From boot-stompers to roof-raisers, the Old 97s are masters of the hook
Call it the case of the disappearing twang. When alt-country darlings the Old 97's formed in 1993, frontman Rhett Miller led the Texas-based band in rousing boot-stompers and Hank Williams-style ballads, all rascally bravado ("Stoned") and whiskey-soaked anguish ("Crying Drunk"). Then, over the years, as this excellent best-of collection demonstrates, the band traded Dallas for New York City and "ain't" for "isn't," their raggedy country sound maturing into the hookiest kind of pop rock. But rest assured, if the latter half of Hit By a Train feels a bit sleek — more urban than cowboy — the Old 97's haven't strayed too far from their Western roots. They continue to crank out lively guitar-driven hits like "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)" and "Rollerskate Skinny," songs about bad decisions and bad luck and the kind of women who'll drive a man to drink.
At the heart of the Old 97's is the rakishly charming Miller, a pretty boy who is so much more than his nice haircut — a wrenchingly honest songwriter, a surprisingly intellectual lyricist and a charismatic live performer (the fact that he possesses the most alluring hip swivel since Elvis certainly doesn't hurt). So it's a special treat that the last two songs on Hit By a Train capture the spill-your-beer-while-you-dance energy of the band's notoriously explosive shows. The standout live track is "Barrier Reef," the tale of a self-proclaimed "serial ladykiller" who's had a bit too much to drink — it's perhaps the most joyful song about erectile dysfunction in the history of music. If the album has one misstep that whiffs of sellout, it's "Question," a sappy Hallmark card of a song that seems custom-made for the soundtrack of a cloying rom-com. If it's a good old fashioned love song you're looking for, try the far superior "King of All the World," a feel-good rocker that is sure to please cowgirls and city slickers alike.