Miller's Crossing

The Old 97's form from wreckage of musical mishaps

Besides, most alt-country fanatics seem unaware that the Appalachian bluegrass sensibility, complete with rustic instrumental breakdowns and rich harmonies, has infused the Old 97's sound much more than the Nashville country aesthetic.

"People ask us about country music, and it kind of perplexes me," Hammond says. "Really, there's a huge bluegrass influence to this, and a much more minor country influence. We're more influenced by a folky Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers approach than George Jones."

Both Miller and Hammond briefly played in the long-running Dallas bluegrass-punk band Killbilly, and they learned how to apply that runaway-locomotive sound to songs like the album opener "Timebomb." Hammond calls the song a "barnburner," bluegrass-speak for a rocker or a rave-up. Fittingly, this first song on the band's first major-label CD is actually a 6-year-old Miller tune that the band dug up and turned into an Old 97's gem.

"Rhett always wrote the same kind of songs," Hammond says. "He wrote songs that were just as deep or shallow as these, and finally, some band happened that allowed the songs to stand on their own."

The Old 97's played a few dates on the second stage of this summer's Lollapalooza Festival, but they won't be part of the Phoenix Lollapalooza show, which, coincidentally, happens the day after their show in Tempe. Hammond says, however, that some Lollapalooza crew members plan on gathering at the Old 97's show for a party. And the show will be a reunion of sorts for the band and the Grievous Angels' Jon Rauhouse, who plays pedal steel and banjo on Too Far to Care.

So, even as critical acclaim pours in for the new album, and major success seems around the corner, Hammond doesn't forget the lessons of the Old 97's humble beginnings. To hear him tell it, Bob Dylan may have been right when he sang, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

"We hit that point where we didn't care if we only played coffee houses and little tiny bars for the rest of our lives," Hammond says. "We just wanted to play for fun and play for ourselves. And somewhere in my gut, I knew that was the way to get to bigger things."

The Old 97's are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, August 5, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with

Grievous Angels. Showtime is 10 p.m.

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