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The Old 97’s, who took their name from a Johnny Cash tune, have just released Drag It Up, their sixth full-length (and quite possibly finest, if not most diverse) album. Those unfamiliar with the combo need only listen to Drag It Up’s opener, “Won’t Be Home,” to get up to speed on where the band has traveled and where they’re headed. In the four-and-a-half-minute song, frontman Rhett Miller’s distinct vocals and insightful and personal storytelling lyrics are backed by Philip Peeples’ “arms of steel” rat-a-tat drumming, a distorted and down-tuned Telecaster solo from Ken Bethea, and the fade-out of bassist Murry Hammond’s “ooohs,” all of which snap a perfectly framed musical picture of a group at its peak. But, despite the fact that they’ve played Austin City Limits and done Letterman and Leno, they are still a fan’s band. And to the cool, hip, and in-the-know, the perfectly placed droplets of success take the band’s authenticity factor to another level.
Throughout the new album’s 13 tracks, the Old 97’s tap various influences and confirm themselves as their generation’s Johnny, Hank, Waylon, Willie, and the boys. The end result is a sonic cocktail blending the finest ingredients of country, folk, rockabilly, 1960s rock-and-roll, and a splash of pop to sweeten the deal. And since it was recorded using an eight-track machine and little trickery or knob twitching, what you hear is what you get: a clean, stripped-down record by some of the most talented musicians to ever cruise a honky-tonk.

Equally impressive is the way the band has been able to build upon their artistic kinship, as well as grow their families. By the numbers, the fellas have amassed four weddings, five children, and four homes between them, and the best part is, they get to do what they love — play in a band with a brotherhood they formed in
Dallas more than a decade ago.

— James E. Mayfield

Left to right: Philip Peeples, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, and Ken Bethea