This is the Old 97's album we've been waiting for, the hard rockin' backyard barbecue soundtrack of the summer. Forty quick minutes of foot-stomping rhythm and hilariously dysfunctional songs, Most Messed Up is more cohesive and pugnacious than the band's 2008 effort, Blame It On Gravity.
The 97's attack these unapologetic romps about professional-grade debauchery with the loose, aggressive confidence of a seasoned rock band with a deep country vocabulary. Take note as you crank it up—these ain't no frat-boy, country lite anthems. They're edgy songs about messy grown-up lives, and that usually involves drinking.
"I'm better off being wasted than working my whole life through," sings Rhett Miller on "Wasted," as Murry Hammond's reliable harmony comes in on the chorus to leave no doubt who you're listening to. The group's trademark sound has only become more distilled in the 20 years since these Dallas rockers first pressed their red-hot brand into the plump haunch of insurgent country.
With the exception of the Bottle Rockets and Robbie Fulks when he tries, the Old 97's are the last band standing from alt-country's Class of '94, when Bloodshot Records was country music's Alamo, defending honest music against the onslaught of Garth, Toby and Shania. Alt-country brethren Wilco showed some promise early on, but its devolution into self-indulgent purveyors of dissonance and noise have relegated them to a "critic's band" to be fawned over by the hipsterati. Who's left? Honky tonk godhead Dale Watson can't get played on country radio, Blue Mountain's reunion fizzled and the Jayhawks split into inferior solo acts. Even next-generation "Americana" bands like the Avett Brothers have snipped the balls from alt-country and pushed it into Banjoland.
The Old 97's have outlasted them all (even surviving Rhett Miller's solo career) and kept its sound intact. Most Messed Up is expertly cooked, country-drizzled rock-and-roll for adults who have a sense of humor and a burning desire to shake their ass.