Old 97's 

Blame It on Gravity

The Old 97's continue the trend of their last New West album, which is to say they simultaneously hark back to their roots and indulge their fondness for slick pop songs. At this juncture, it's safe to say that Rhett Miller's unbelievable talent for a crazy turn of phrase is long gone, but the boys still deliver tightly wound rootsy rock 'n' roll, with one foot in Texas and one foot in Hollywood.

Recorded in Dallas, where the band started, the guitars are turned up and raging just like the old days. Ken Bethea's guitar playing is as gutsy and twangy as ever; he's truly the king of tone. They bust out the cha-cha-cha for "She Loves the Sunset," and the train beat shows up on "The One," which recalls "The House That Used to Be" from Too Far to Care, and even features a banjo. Murry Hammond shows up with a couple of countrified tunes, like the tender soul of the band.

Yet the pop impulses these boys have displayed are truly shameless, and it's amazing they haven't broken the mainstream, even as hard as Elektra tried. The recording is clean, creative, and slick, with amazingly careful attention to detail. Like Satellite Rides, this disc walks the line between great and slightly too pop, although there are no clunkers like "King of All the World."

Most of all, though, Blame It on Gravity is happy-go-lucky party time, devoid of dark tunes like "Valium Waltz" or "Blinding Sheets of Rain." That's a pretty nice breath of fresh air, truth be told. Go see them live, you won't regret it. (New West)

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