October 31, 2005

Old 97s "Alive & Wired!"

Dallas' country-rockin' sons Old 97's have a reputation for being one hell of a powerful live act. Going to one of their shows is a fun time for new fans and old diehards alike, as the band never ceases to be less than entertaining. They've released six albums over the last decade, two of which are masterpieces (Wreck Your Life and Too Far to Care). Each album is filled with at least two damn good songs, and even though their later work hasn't quite been as impressive; the last two records at Elektra found the band slicking up their sound and losing some of their magic. Last year, they came back with a brand new album on a brand new label, and all was once again right with the world; though the band has grown older and have mellowed out somewhat, they proved that they still had the ability to write some crunchy, raucous rockabilly. Unbelieveably, the band had yet to document the power of their live set. Sure, there was a limited-edition disc with 2001's Satellite Rides, but at five songs, it was too brief to satisfy.

Alive & Wired, however, serves the band justice. A two-CD, 30 song set, this collection captures the band at an appearance this summer at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. The set is a very balanced overview of the band's career, with no era left unrepresented. Alive & Wired also shows that for a band with no 'hits,' the Old 97's sure do have a lot of popular songs. Classics such as "Big Brown Eyes," "Stoned," "Wish the Worst" and "Barrier Reef" appear here, in fine form. The band is also extremely tight; Rhett Miller's voice sings these now-classic hits with the same pep and energy as the day he wrote them, and Ken Bethea's guitar work has only improved with age. Heck, even newer songs like "The New Kid" and "Smokers" fit in quite well with the older material, a sure sign of excellence.

Live, the Old 97's never disappoint, and Alive & Wired is no exception. While some may quibble that a few classic songs didn't make the final cut (the most notable being "Victoria," "Singular Girl," "El Paso" and "Nineteen") and some might think the sound quality's a bit on the rough side (this is a live show, mind you), there's not much to bitch about here. All in all, this is as close to a greatest hits package that you can get, and it's the next best thing to actually being there. So go grab you a cold one, crank up the stereo and rock OUT the Old 97's.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.old97s.com
Label Website: http://www.newwestrecords.com

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