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The Old 97's chug along

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Almost 20 years ago to the day, The Old 97's got their moniker as bassist Murry Hammond wrote the name down on a napkin, showing it to his roommate Rhett Miller.

Now the quartet is on an anniversary tour of sorts - don't label this a reunion tour as they never broke up - offering material from throughout their career, starting the night off with Barrier Reef from 1997's "Too Far to Care," which came out in an expanded edition last year and ending as usual with the fast and furious Timebomb from the same disc.

With shows on consecutive nights in Cambridge and Miller saying that the second show would be almost completely different, The Old 97's had a lot of material to cut through.

Given that, one would suspect there was something for everyone. The quartet turned in sturdy versions of Doreen along with Hammond's lead vocals on the traditional country sounds of W. TX Teardrops from "Too Far to Care."

Miller assumed most of the leads, although the occasional chance for Hammond to be the front man, was a good move pace-wise. Miller was not a singer who necessarily hit the notes just right, and that should be considered a compliment. After all, these were one of the leading purveyors of alt.-country, meaning it was more traditional, less pop sounding, with sometimes a rock edge to it. There was a roughness at times to the singing (Big Brown Eyes and the bouncy Victoria, but that was a plus as despite their age, The Old 97's were not giving a punch-the-clock kind of performance (and they were up there for a good stretch, about 105 minutes).

Miller could not be typically accused of being a super sensitive kind of guy, but he showed that side of himself in a soft, solo acoustic rendering of Lost Without You, a song he wrote with Ben Kweller from last year's solo disc "The Dreamer."

Miller and Hammond may be more the faces of the band, but that would sell guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Phillip Peeples short. Bethea was superb on guitar, almost always playing underneath, but typically providing a lot of texture and spark to the songs. He was sometimes steely, sometimes opting for more obvious traditional country licks and continually providing some muscle to the music.

Peeples, who like Bethea has been a 97's charter member, set a good pace behind the skins, keeping the music flowing.

The Old 97's may be long in the tooth age-wise, but this train keeps running just fine.