Reviewed by Andrew W. Griffin
In the middle '90s, Old 97's was finding it's footing amidst the burgeoning alt.-country scene, particularly among groups like The Jayhawks, Wilco and Son Volt. Old 97's - guitarist Ken Bethea, singer Rhett Miller, drummer Philip Peeples and bassist Murry Hammond -found a niche in the Dallas music scene .
In 1995, they released "Wreck Your Life," an album they recorded for next to nothing up in Chicago. The Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records released it and helped cement the retro-sounding quartet as a crackerjack band worth noting. Nearly 15 years later, Bloodshot gets the brilliant idea of repackaging "Wreck Your Life" along with some obscure singles and rare tunes that the band recorded for the label as an LP (they are currently signed to New West).
The results are quite appealing. Old 97's has more off a poppy sheen these days. The sweat and grime that comes through on "Wreck Your Life ... And Then Some" is a sweet reminder of where these guys came from. They clearly had an appreciation for classic country. Peeples' boom-chicka-boom beat is a throwback to a pompadoured era while Bethea is allowed to twang it out with the best of them. Miller, who would go on to record some brainy pop in the 2000's as a solo artist, holds his own here as a country singer who is comfortable amidst the steel and glass of modern-day north Texas.
Victoria is instantly memorable and appealing. Miller's vocals here are top notch. Rockabilly angst propels You Belong To My Heart and Ricky Nelson-esque melodies make Old Familiar Steam a keeper.
Big Brown Eyes gives us some insight into the band Old 97s would become and the guitar solo on Bel Air brings you back with a hook that reminds you just what a great American band they were becoming.