Old 97’s: maturing cowpunk from a band on the up-slope

23rd March 2017

Title: Too Far to Care

Label: Music on Vinyl

An alt-country outfit, emerging in 1993 and hosting a name that pays due respect to a love of trains, the band started via Rhett Miller and Murray Hammond (he’s the train fan) with Ken Bethea on guitar and Philip Peeples on drums joining later. They share a taste for twangy cowpunk as well as forceful pop rhythms.

The group began their career well and have never ventured far from that standard. All of their albums (and there’s been, what, 12 of them to date?) have been of the highest quality. No clunkers among the batch at all. Yet, the band has never really hit the commercial heights in terms of mainstream success. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing but others – including the band’s bank manager – may disagree. What you can see from that 1993 point onwards is a distinct maturation and honing of both style and songwriting as the group became leaner and more efficient in their message, creating a higher percentage of rock and pop in their delivery as time passed.

This album, their third, released in 1997, was their debut for major label, Elektra. A catchy little beggar, it injects punkish values and country soul into the mix which is wrapped up in a rocking, often high tempo presentation but with a certain amount of added arrogance that tells of the band’s confidence. A top quality alt-country outing that is packed with quality song-writing, it also arrives with some beautiful, lower key, arrangements such as the rather lovely Salome. A study in minor chords with an almost (almost) cliched big country guitar sound, this track is worth the purchase of the album all on its own.

Music on Vinyl has produced a well mastered edition here. Quietly pressed, offering both clarity and transparency, it will serve your hi-fi well.