Wednesday, July 09, 2008

But if you want it, here it is.

So I know as the year unfolds, I'm quite privy to say I'm excited about this, I'm excited about that, and there will be this in November to look forward to.

But then when these moments actually occur, I'm rather tight lipped. The main reason for this is because I usually horde new music over the course of the year to prepare my annual "15 of the Best" series in December and give thoughts, opinions and second degrees on the biggest surprises of the year (and let downs from bands I'd had high hopes for).

This summer's been a little difficult in me trying to deal with the fact that Alejandro Escovedo now has management bent on making him the celebrity he deserves to be. I've been a staunch Escovedo backer for a few years now and would be the first to say that I can't really think of anyone more deserving to be as celebrated in the pantheon of greats. But I also admit its a little strange to see him opening for Dave Matthews and sharing stages with Bruce Springsteen (and let's not pretend for a moment that this isn't just a little heartbreaking). The new album, of course, is typically glorious. But I just pray the days of those intimate performances at Shank Hall or the High Noon Saloon don't morph into annual stops at Alpine Valley. The clubs never were going to make him as rich as he deserves to be, but the love inside those walls was pretty grand. I hope it's not lost.

On the other hand, I've no reservations about the success that the Old 97's are getting on the back of their latest, Blame it on Gravity. The record's quite astounding if you've not heard it yet, actually one of the most solid top-to-bottom offerings I've heard thus far this year. Maybe my cynicism of their own celebrity-club status was tempered by the band's appearance in the Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn vehicle The Break-Up a couple years ago, but whatever glad hands, photo ops and celebrity blog exposure comes for the boys this time around, I'm all for it. Even if the video is a little silly.


Then again, maybe I'm also safe in the knowledge that however great the album is, New West Records is never going to have the power to navigate an all out assault that would mean week-long stints on the Sunset Strip or a live Today show performance. Sure, they can show up on the Good Morning Texas, and that's fine. But they're also probably not gonna make the jump out of the clubs anytime to soon. Which is fine -- it's where it is best, after all. Can you imagine them in a stadium? Oh, never mind.

The great thing about the 97's new record and really the 97's in general is that while they dabble in a plethora of different styles, they've always stayed orbiting around a rock-pop meets proper country center (read: proper country, not that CMT business).

Maybe the twang's straightened out a little, but aside from production value, I find little that separates the Old 97's of 1995 from the Old 97's of 2008. Critics are likely to bemoan such a fact, but I doubt I'm alone when I say I really appreciate it.

To illustrate my point:

Old 97's - Garage Sale
This is a cut pulled from a strange little 10-inch EP released in 1995 that featured the 97's on one side, and Funland (later to become Melt, later to become immortalized in the Old 97's "Melt Show" on Too Far To Care) on the other, but both performing the same two songs (one of each's). Here's the 97's take on the Funland song, which I actually find preferable to their own offering, "Stoned." You put a bit more polish on, raise the bass and, really, this wouldn't sound out of place on Blame it on Gravity. Say what you will about progress, but I know a whole bunch of people that will talk instead about devotion.



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