by Brad Tucker
The Old 97’s return to the studio for the first time since 2004 with Blame It on Gravity. The band’s third album with New West picks up where their up-tempo alt-country sound left off before front man Rhett Miller’s most recent solo venture. Miller’s aptitude for pop-friendly phrasing is on display immediately with the driving opener “The Fool,” the track fading to the repeated line “You’ve got to be a fool to be a fool in love.” While the intensity never reaches 1997’s Too Far To Care levels, Gravity has its share of rockers. “Ride” features Philip Peeples’ pulsing drumbeats and “Early Morning” recalls the bouncing speed of the band’s earlier work. Lead guitarist Ken Bethea provides solos and signature 97’s pop riffs, especially on the Byrds-ish jangle of “My Two Feet.” Bassist and occasional vocalist Murray Hammond contributes a ballad reminiscent of Harvest-era Neil Young in “Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue.” After 15 years, The Old-97’s continue to wear their influences on their sleeves while maintaining a sound all their own (as well as all four original members). Blame It on Gravity is immediately among the finest albums released in 2008, and slides neat as a new pin into the 97’s prolific catalogue.