They say longevity of a band speaks volumes, this is no exception with Texas alt-country rocker's the Old 97's. 27 years of being a band with no lineup changes and albums that sound great next to each other no matter what the time gap is. This newest album could of easily followed their 1994 debut or could of easily been a precursor to their infamous 1997 record "Too Far to Care." But here we see the band with their twelfth studio album, appropriately titled as just that. Dallas Cowboy player Roger Staubach graces the cover with his number 12 jersey, a literal dream cover front man Rhett Miller has wanted to do for years. Somehow, no matter what the circumstances, we get quality records again and again from the Old 97's and with "Twelfth", they maybe step a little out of their comfort zones.
Kicking "Twelfth" off is the lazy romper "The Dropouts", possibly about themselves early on with them just "waiting on a phone call." The whole record surrounds Miller's new found sobriety he got in 2015, writing songs alone again, reflecting on the old days where the 97's shared a small space sleeping on the floor, and eating noodles everyday before they made it big. As always their production is spectacular with popping bass and drums, twinkly leads, and strong harmonies from Miller and bassist Murry Hammond, who has two of his own songs on this 12 track album.
Following is the haunting tune "This House Got Ghosts", and instant grab for me with the anti-chorus and whispered words. Every time hearing the false ending fills me with joy with distorted sustained leads from guitarist Ken Bethea, who also adds accordion to two of the tracks.
"Twelfth" continues with it's strong start with the lead single from the album "Turn Off the TV." This song initially had me uninterested in the album with a bad video featuring a clown, now it sits a little better. This song obviously being about young love and the old house where most of these songs seem to be set. This is the most Old 97's track on the album.
"I Like You Better" is next and perhaps lets in some of the sounds from Miller's solo work, particularly his 2018 pop album "The Messenger", a quiet piano cuts through at just the right moments. The theme of most Old 97's songs seems to stay the same with songs about relationships, drinking, and introspection. Even with sobriety under his belt, Miller found a way to channel his song writing persona without the use of substances, a triumph truly for the singer now in his 40s.
Now we get the first Hammond song, "Happy Hour." This is a classic Hammond addition to the album with it's walking bass line and dark country overtones. This track could easily fit on any Old 97's album. This track being especially reflective on their past drinking days, "Happy Hour is over."
"Belmont Hotel" follows with string accompany and a simple chord structure, a true country song that could of been written in the 1970s. Comparing love to a building in the most crooning fashion with a little accordion in the back.
"Confessional Boxing" rips off next, the most upbeat song on this record and possibly in their discography. This near-punk song has driving drums and bass, slick leads, and loud vocals. This seems to be the most energy they've had since 2014's "Most Messed Up" album. It's songs like these that make me think the Old 97's can play any style of music they want.
In large contrast is the walker "Diamonds on Neptune", dropping the energy drastically, but keeping a warm feeling in it's place. Drummer Phillip Peebles has a very particular drum beat on this track.
Next is the creeper song "Our Year", a track that started so quietly and slow that it lost my interest upon first listen. Towards the end the track really starts to amp up with the two electric guitars cutting through, creeping up on you when you've lost track of the track. "Twelfth" seems a tad front loaded with strong rock tunes to start and weirder slow jams towards the end.
Another tune that could fit any Old 97's album is "Bottle Rocket" with it's country drums and simple chord progression and lyrics. In this track you can hear the energy the band has playing live together with your foot tapping by the end of the song.
Perhaps the most slept on track on "Twelfth" for me is "Absence." This tune reminds me more of their polished 2017 release "Graveyard Whistling", exemplifying Miller's strong songwriting yet again. I can't help but wonder if any of these songs were rewrites for their 2018 Christmas album "Love the Holidays"
To end this successful Twelfth album is the haunting and quiet Hammond composition "Why Don't We Ever Say We're Sorry." With such a contrast to any other Old 97's track, heavily reverbed vocals, guitar, and accordion. This song is as moving as any other on this album, if not more moving, and fits in as well as the "Butcher Tale" on The Zombie's "Oddesy and Oracle"
All and all the Old 97's continue to do what they do best, rock. Nearly 30 years since conception, they still succeed to deliver that warm comfortable feeling with every album just as good as the last, making for a discography not to be forgotten, and a band to live forever.
Favorite Track: "This House Got Ghosts"
- Ryne's Reviews