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  Early Tracks  
  The Old 97's  
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I have a soft spot for twang. Most likely a vestigal reminder of a childhood spent deeper in the Deep South than most people would find comforting. It's a lingering sort of thing. It's the sort of thing that repeatedly draws you back into honky-tonk dives until three in the morning. The sort of thing that turns beer snobs into PBR-swilling yokels for a couple of hours. It's the sort of thing that drives Bloodshot Records.

The kids over at Bloodshot pride themselves on their DIY role in "insurgent country". Give 'em half a chance or a random mouse click ( and they'll rant you a country mile about their noble crusade against the tyranny of Nashville and the bloody system. Cowpunks are funny that way. Still, they at least back up their ravings with great music, and occasionally they'll manage a real volley of attacks against their personal Goliaths. Their latest Old 97's compilation, for example.

Last year the Old 97's released Fight Songs on Elektra, which is, of course, a subsidiary of Goliath. The songs were solid enough. The hooks were hooky, the riffs riffy. Rhett Miller was wailin' his way through the tunes, the women still breakin' his heart, the whiskey still chasin' them away. It was, all things considered, a nice record. Nice, in the way kissing Betty Sue McClendon was nice to you in 8th grade. That is to say, it was something that seemed pretty okay at the time, but as your got older and stepped back and thought about it a little more, and after your mom introduced you to her at the next family reunion, it all seemed sordid and dirty and wrong. It wasn't particularly incestuous or anything, just bland and blah. Everything that made the band a great act was washed away in a sea of filters. Everytime you felt yourself about to start tapping your toe some Elektra schmuck would step in and wipe it all away. It ended up sounding more like The GooGoo Dolls than anything else, and that's all fine and dandy if you're The GooGoo Dolls, I suppose, but it's not to be desired if you're claim to fame is anything but sounding **exactly** like The Replacements.

So along come the Bloodshot hooligans. See, the Old 97s were a Bloodshot band before signing with The Label. And Bloodshot still owned the rights to most of their early stuff. Split-seven inch releases, single-track releases from old compilations, and of course the inevitable "rare and unreleased" tracks that had fallen through the cracks. Perhaps they'd planned on cashing them in after the Big Boys made the 97s stars. Maybe they just got drunk and forgot they were there. Who knows? All we can say for sure is that they collected them all together this spring and released them as Early Tracks. There are eight of these tracks, culled mostly from 1995-97 if the liner notes can be trusted. And they're great tracks. They twang to high heaven. Ray Charles and Cryin' Drunk are classics. Great stuff. The opening 15 seconds of this disc erase every thought of ever listening to Fight Songs again. Happy am I.

But alas, happiness is fleeting. In a mere 25 minutes my joy has run it's course. I double check the CD Player. Nope. All done. Somehow I once again remember Betty Sue McClendon, but we'll save the details of why. What's up with that? I drop $15 on a disc and get 25 minutes worth of noise? No, that's just not right. C'mon guys, if you're going to rant and rave about how you're trying to save the world from the tyranny of Evil Bad Major Labels and all that shite then don't sell me and EP at full disc cost! I mean, there are 8 tracks here, so one would assume at least 40 minutes of music, right?

Overall I highly recommend the songs on this release. There's not really a clunker in them. But given a second shot at the purchase I would probably wait until it was in a used bin somewhere. Eight bucks is fair cost. Paying 75 cents per song-minute is a bit ridiculous if you ask me, though.

Related Links:
  Bloodshot Records, home to a whole slew of this alt.Country stuff.  

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