Recordings

Counting Crows' baleful playing has given this breed of wood-grained music a truly awful rep; you'd sooner listen to your car's radiator overheat than be forced to endure Adam Duritz's whining ever again. And maybe bands like the Crows and the Crowes have taken fly-by dumps on this sweet, sweet music's form for too long, damaging its name irreparably. All Brad can attempt is to create these lovely sounds in the gray expanse up there in Seattle and rejoice in the fact that the spotlight has dimmed slightly. The rest of us may have to squint a bit harder to seek them out, but it only makes rewards like Interiors that much sweeter.

--Joshua Sindell

The Old 97s
Too Far to Care
(Elektra Records)

Shortly after Wilco rocked out on Being There, the Old 97s embarked on the No Depression tour with three other bands proud to align themselves with a subculture Jeff Tweedy had officially abandoned. Unlike many of their alt-country peers, the Old 97s love almost any kind of attention; if you want to call them "insurgent country," fine. If you call them something else, that's okay, too. Just so long as you call.

The same is true of the Dallas-based band's third album, Too Far to Care. The title would fit better if it had been used by the 97s' former labelmates, the Waco Brothers, suggesting as it does a kind of drunken nonchalance. In truth, the band's lead singer, Rhett Miller, cares a lot. He wants to please the women in his life, but they're always leaving him--and does it ever bum him out. Fortunately, he knows the best way to keep sad lyrics from turning pathetic is to pair them with frisky instrumental romps. Miller may not be able to satisfy the "stick-legged girl" he's obsessed with, but he's determined to show everyone else a good time.

For the most part, Too Far to Care delivers just that. If the Wacos sound like the Clash playing country music, an Old 97s song such as "Barrier Reef" sounds like Rancid doing the Wacos. That's not a bad thing, but Miller sounds more distinctive pining for a gal on the sweetly beautiful "Salome" and "Streets of Where I'm From," the latter a jazzy number about living in a place where love rots in the sun like road kill. The band--Miller, lead guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murry Hammond, drummer Philip Peeples--sounds most like a rock outfit on the album-opening "Time Bomb" and most like a country crew on "West Texas Teardrops," featuring banjo and Hammond's nasal twang.

On at least half his songs, Miller comes off as a guy who falls in love easily but takes getting dumped hard. The subject matter might get old, but the 97s vary things just enough musically to steer clear of trouble. If the story of a guy scared to death of Manhattan on "Broadway" is too obvious, Miller easily redeems himself on the album's closer, "Four-Leaf Clover." Sung as a duet with Exene Cervenka, it sounds like X riding a Bo Diddley beat, but the bitter lyrics send it to the moon. "I got a four-leaf clover, but it ain't done me a single lick of good/I'm still a drunk and I'm still a loser/And I'm still living in a lousy neighborhood." After all the crying he's done, it's nice to hear Miller get good and pissed.

--Keith Moerer

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