This review was originally written for Listen Before You Buy.
The train-engine rolling sound of the Old 97′s doesn’t completely disappoint on their latest release “The Grand Theatre Vol. 2”. For those who appreciate Rhett Miller’s rambling poetry and fragmentary phrasing the album will be a welcome addition to the seemingly unending discography of this prolific band.
I think the sign of a good songwriter is the ability to take the most mundane topics and make them interesting, and Miller certainly has this trait. Whether it be the hair color of his forbidden love (‘Brown-Haired Daughter’), or sleazy men at bars (‘No Simple Machine’), Miller’s poetry has always been an interesting reflection on both the simple and complex situations in life.
Musically, the Old 97′s are clearly a talented group; guitar solos and well-placed harmonies inundate most songs. ‘No Simple Machine’ and ‘I’m A Trainwreck’ are good examples of their excellent musicianship with flourishes of electric guitar that stand out against the layers of vocals and drums.
Unfortunately, despite his excellent writing, this album, along with many other Old 97′s records, tends to drag on in many places. I compared their sound to a train earlier, and that metaphor could easily carry through the album. “The Grand Theatre Vol. 2” is similar to a train ride that is just that little bit too long: watching the landscapes fly by is a pleasure to start with, but it does start to drag. Any longer and it would be unbearably dull.
As far as highlights go, ‘How Lovely All It Was’ features a nostalgic wistfulness that is laced with quietly mixed in strings, giving it a softer feel and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the rollicking ‘White Port’ sounds as if it was sung by a whole chorus of pirates, leaning off a passing ship and relating the tale – fitting, since that’s pretty much what it’s about. Plus it includes yodeling, which makes it a solid song in my book.
As much as I love the Old 97′s lyrics, and some of Miller’s lines are certainly masterpieces, there’s just not enough here to keep my interest the whole way through. Still, fans should check it out. Stream a few tracks here.