Why I like The Old 97s

by Steve Gardner
**assemble soapbox**
**step up**

Every once in a while I get philosophical about the music that gets me going. I've put a lot of thought into a great cd I've been listening to (endlessly) lately. The cd is the Old 97's "Wreck Your Life" which is out now on Bloodshot. Here's what I've been mulling over in my head ...

To me it seems like in the world of No Depression, Insurgent Country, or whatever you call it, there are two types of bands that can be found. One is the band that is reacting against Young Country (tm) ... the other is a band that is so good that they do not need to advertise this fact. To illustrate this fact I will pick two bands ... one fake band (because I don't want to rip on anyone in particular) I'll call Country Jack and the Whiskey Drinkers and one real band, the Old 97s.

Country Jack's hit song on college radio is "Give me Garth Brooks Head on a Stick". Also on their album is the songs "Pray to Hank" and "Country Speed". All the songs on the cd sound great and are very enjoyable. This is a fun band that may annoy some fans of Young Country (YC) ... but isn't that the point?

Then you have the Old 97s. Like Uncle Tupelo these guys are so good that they do not have to advertise the fact that they are anti-YC. As soon as you hear the music you know that these guys come from a different camp. They are not trying to be a traditional band...they definitely are a 90s version of country-rock music. But they do draw upon the past when they play their music. By God, there is a banjo on the cd! Don Walser also appears with a little yodeling and the cd also features a cover of Bill Monroe's "My Sweet Blue Eyed Darling". There is as much of a Mekons influence going on here as there is Hank Williams.

The beauty of the Old 97's is that they do not have to tell me Young Country sucks. They just write songs. Songs that I listen to and think "This is *so* much better than Young Country!". I guess what I am saying is that good music can speak for itself. The more I listen to the Old 97's the more I consider the shock value (preaching) of Country Jack silly ... and eventually boring. Why let your style of music be defined by someone else, WHO YOU DON'T EVEN LIKE? Country Jack, by reacting to Young Country, is actually putting YC in the drivers seat and *that* is what bothers me. Why do that?

If you imagine that both the Old 97s and Country Jack both have one foot stuck in the past (trad-foot) and one foot stuck in the future (modern-foot) I would contest that the foot that is causing all these problems in the one in the here and now. Both Country Jack and the Old 97s have great roots to their music. Neither band could be considered traditional though. A die-hard country fan might not even like either band, thinking they are too "Rock and Roll". Country Jack spends so much time worrying about what everyone thinks about his modern-foot though that he loses sight of the overall music. He starts singing about his modern-foot instead. (Aside: Please forget about the fact that the Old 97's have a song on this album called "The Other Shoe". Thanks. :)

So what is my advice to all the insurgent country bands out there (not that they care)? Don't worry about Young Country ... just worry about making good music. Let us, the fans, decide for ourselves which is better. Base your musical creativity on the elements of traditional and modern society that you like instead of the things that you dislike. Your music will be healthier for it as well as your audience.

A month ago Cheryl Cline wrote about her "Musings on Insurgent Country" and I guess that planted the seed in me which finally took root when I heard this cd. I wish I was as eloquent as her. I hope this gives you a bit of an idea of what has been going through my brain. Thanks Cheryl.

*step down*
*disassemble soapbox*

Now Playing: Old 97s "Wreck Your Life"

Steve Gardner

Oldtime, Bluegrass & Celtic
WXDU 88.7 FM and 103.5 FM
Sundays 1 to 3pm. Durham, NC

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