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Old 97's

Fight Songs – 1999 (Elektra)

Reviewed by James Mann

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CDs by Old 97's

The latest in a line of twangsters who have broadened their sound into the pop arena (i.e., Wilco, Joe Pernice), the Old 97's have forged a pretty good middle ground between the "Cowboy Clash" of their past and a more radio-friendly pop sound.

True, there's no "Time Bomb" here, and the record is less for the loss of that type of song, but Rhett Miller's twisted lyrics and melodic sense are intact. From the bouncy pop of "Oppenheimer" to the direct Neil Young "Rust" period cop of "Jagged," this is a fun record.

Featuring the steel guitar of the Grievous Angels' Jon Ranhouse on several cuts, the music retains the 97's Texas feel (check out "Alone So Far"), while moving a little closer to the mainstream. "Crash on the Barrelhead" is true to the spirit of its namesake, but songs like "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)" come off as grasping, transparent stabs at Matchbox 20 - land, not a place fans would like to find the Old 97's.