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
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 alt.country 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.