Monday, June 30

Dead Lake Will Make You Feel Alive

Artist: Hot Club De Paris
Album: Live at Dead Lake

Since the release of Drop It ‘Til It Pops in 2006, listeners across the map have been clamoring for Hot Club De Paris to send some more of that passionate, British pop-punk out into the world. And now, two years later with their most recent release, Live At Dead Lake, Hot Club does not disappoint.

From the “la’s” and “da’s” of opening track, “Call Me Mr. Demolition Ball,” Hot Club present a catchy, 14 song summer soundtrack about being young and in love and all the hang-ups that such behavior entails. With their high energy guitars and bouncing British accents the band radiates the sunny feeling of July, regardless of the weather outside. They kick off the album with a three song frenzy synonymous with the established sound on Hot Club’s first album. “My Little Haunting,” and “I Wasn’t Being Heartless When I Said Your Favorite Song Lacked Heart,” instantly ease a listener’s inhibitions; this is still the Hot Club they know and love.

The middle of the album is composed of an interesting dynamic in which the two strongest songs on the album are alternated between two instrumental tracks. The interludes initially serve as a clever way to build up to the following songs, but after a few spins a listener will impatiently skip ahead to the dance-in-your-car “Hey, Housebrick” and the ever hopeful, “Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl.” “Housbrick” comes with a number of fist-pump inducing shouts and a corresponding music video that emphasizes the lighthearted tone of the album. “Boy Awaits” doesn’t have quite the same musical oomph, but the story of the boy waiting for his lady to choose between a man and him and his pop-punk band will having you rooting for the boy and hoping that the runaway girl would come back to you, too.

One of the only discrepancies in the album, which is most apparent in the mellow, “Found Sleeping,” is Hot Club’s periodic love of noise making. “Mr. Demolition Ball” opens with the abstract, twanging of guitars and tapping of symbols, a phenomena which creeps briefly into “My Little Haunting,” and then fully takes over in “Found Sleeping.” This freeform style served the band well with heartbreaker “Hello, I Wrote A Song For You Called ‘Welcome To The Jungle,’” off their first album. Sadly, their attempt at a second song of that caliber falls short.

But overall, Hot Club keeps their energy consistent through the CD. “The Dice Just Wasn’t Loaded From The Start,” is a quieter, more endearing number about a relationship gone awry, followed by some more upbeat tracks. Disregarding “Found Sleeping,” the album finishes strong. Hot Club De Paris has created another winner. Live At Dead Lake is the musical embodiment of warm summer nights spent driving on back roads with someone you like, singing with the windows down and planning to make a recovery.
-Liz Wagner

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Hey Housebrick, The Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl, The Dice Just Wasn't Loaded From the Start, I Wasn't Being Heartless When I Said Your Favorite Song Lacked Heart

Buy, Steal, or Skip: Buy

Wednesday, June 25

Dex Jux Gets Funky With Chin Chin

Artist: Chin Chin

Album: Chin Chin

Comments: I really wish I knew more about soul music. I’ve worked hard to keep myself at least semi-versed in as many genres of pop music as possible, but as I sit here and try to review Chin Chin’s self titled record, I can’t help but feel that I am woefully unprepared.

See, with other genres of music, I’ve got benchmarks. I can think of an example in almost every genre of at least one band that I feel strongly about. But when it comes to soul, I’m pretty much in the dark. I’ve got some Marvin Gaye, some Al Green, and some Solomon Burke but none of their stuff has ever served as much more than background noise or snugglin’ music.

It’s possible that I just don’t care much for soul music. If that is the case, then it’s pretty clear that I won’t think much of Chin Chin. Because, despite their leaning into electronica, funk and even rock, this plays like a modern-day soul record.

The best way to describe this record is confident. The album opens with “Miami,” a rocking song heavy with funk horns and swagger. It’s a well named song; if I close my eyes while I listen, I can almost see palm trees at sunset while girls in white dresses and men in fedora hats dance in a club on South Beach. “Miami” is sharp, and one of the best cuts on the album despite a thin start that is exercised by the ending guitar attack.

The album shifts away from bombast but maintains the cool confidence on tracks like “Appetite” and “You Can’t Hold Her.” The tracks are modern, with some real sharp production (that I suspect might be courtesy of El-P, mastermind of the band’s label Def Jux). It’s seduction music, but it’s well made.

So goes the album. There are some slow songs (“Ohio”), some more rocking tracks (“Cotillon,” “Curtis”) and some lovemaking, sexy tunes that employ some falsetto singing that will either light your fire or have you scrambling for the “next” button.

Chin Chin is the kind of album you could throw on at a party and have a good time to, especially if there’s a lady or dude at the show you’re looking to make a move on. Outside of that, I’m not sure if this is a good album or not. I know that Chin Chin sound as confident as hell on this record, which leads me to want to listen to it more. I also know that it won’t get more than one or two more spins in the future. I guess if you like soul music you can dance to, this will tickle you.

You might dance to Chin Chin, but it isn’t the album that’ll turn you into a soul fan. At least, it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Miami, Curtis, Ohio, Cotillon

Buy, Steal, or Skip: Steal

Tuesday, June 24

Get Happy With We're Happy

Artist: J. Fox
Album: We're Happy to Be Here

Comments: In many ways, Philadelphia-based three piece J. Fox is a straight-up punk band. Their d├ębut album, We’re Happy To Be Here, clocks in at 14 songs in under 25 minutes. Their sound is decidedly lo-fi, with no guitar effects or fancy studio tricks to be found on this bare-bones record. Their music, which is anchored by an enthusiastic, if not always technically sound rhythm section, isn’t the kind of thing that sounds labored and stressed over. Songs begin and end without warning at times, as if the band just said “fuck it, this is as good a spot to end the song as any.” Rush, they are not.

However, to label this indie-rock record under the "punk" umbrella is to limit it. Sure, We’re Happy To Be Here is a punk album, but it's also a blast. Listening to the album is a lot like eating bread pudding for the first time; at first the texture makes one hesitant despite the fact that it looks good. However, after that first bite, you’ll definitely come back for more.

J. Fox’s main strength (and potential weakness) are in their lyrics. This is a band that lives and dies in the “Train of Thought” school of lyric writing, which is an established university with some great success stories (R.E.M, Modest Mouse) and some colossal failures (The Mars Volta).

For the most part, however, J. Fox seems to avoid the pitfalls that come with free-form lyric writing. They’ve carved themselves into a nice little niche where the words make sense in a broad, open minded sense if not in a specific “these words are referring to this” way. The general theme of the album seems to be living the boring suburban life with boring suburban people. It’s well tread ground, and the nonsense lyrics work well by hinting without ever smacking the listener in the head.

Of course, some of it is nothing more than words that sound good together. For example, take this line from “Oysters,” a mellow rock track that sounds a little bit like early Jawbreaker; “Come on / let’s get in line / I don’t know Yahtzee but I won’t take the time / to learn a new game / this time I’ll try to use my brain.” Um, okay.

Still, this is very much a case of not what is being said, but how it is being said. The delivery is spot on in most places, sounding rushed when it needs to and sounding relaxed when its time to calm down. The avante-garde, gutterpunk sound of the album stays consistent through, succeeding wonderfully on the “Basement Rock” (which is a dance-fest), and “Dirty Ditch” (which might be a revenge song, but fuck if I know). Songs like “Oysters,” which is the most heartfelt cut on the album and “Signs,” which is a herky-jerky surf rock song, do break up the album some, but for the most part the sound doesn’t deviate from the formula.

Just like eating too much bread pudding, one can get sick of We’re Happy To Be Here. After all, man cannot live on dessert alone. But if you give J. Fox a chance, they’ll make life a little bit sweeter.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tacks: Basement Rock, Brooklyn, Dirty Ditch, Oysters

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy it.

Friday, June 20

Pattern is Garbage

Artist: Pattern is Movement
All Together

Comments: The first 50 seconds of “Bird,” the first and best track on Pattern is Movement’s third album All Together, are as triumphant as military trumpet. “I will never / all together,” commands Andrew Thiboldeaux, PiM’s singer. A choir responds, echoing Thiboldeaux’s chorus, only to have him call for it again. Drums thump in the background, off the beat of the vocals that drive the song as a xylophone provides the song’s melody, giving it a Saturday-morning-cartoon-meets-drama-class feel.

Then, just as things are established and the song is rolling along, things abruptly change. Gongs and wind instruments chime in, brining a whole new melody to the song. Not abrasive, but like a gentle, fickle wind that blows the song in a completely new direction with no warning or care for the listener, who moment before was enjoying some just fine pop music.

Such is the way on All Together, an album of avant-garde, dramatic indie pop that is so preoccupied with changing every 30 seconds that the listener can never catch up.

The reason this unfocused strategy can work in a genre like lo-fi or noise is because that kind of music is based on exploring chaos and finding substance within it. However, there is no chaos to be found on All Together. Every instrument is clean and planned, with no notes missed. Everything was thought of miles in advance. The changes are by design, not circumstance. Patter is Movement decided, consciously, to make an album that never settles.

It’s a shame really because there might be some legitimately good ideas littered thought this album. However, due to the ever-shifting nature of the songs, it’s not even fun to try and find them. Why look for the good when you can only get a gimps of it before its on to the next idea? Pattern is movement, indeed.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Key Tracks: Bird

Buy, Steal, or Skip: Skip

Thursday, June 19

A Collection of Words Describing Nouns

Artist: No Age
Album: Nouns

Talented and all-around nice guys, No Age are back after their 2007 release Weirdo Rippers. Since that release, their notoriety has grown out of the L.A. "Smell" scene and into the confines of hip America (and presumably, other hip countries). On their newest release Nouns, No Age’s noisy punk sound is polished and more audible than their previous venture, while still maintaining their nonchalant swagger.

After Weirdo Rippers, it was hard to tell which way their sound was going to swing. Would No Age lean towards their roots and end up more hardcore, or would they become a clean-cut and bland indie-rock outfit? Luckily, the band (Randy Randall and Dean Spunt) did not push the genre-bending extreme. All they did was re-evaluate their overall sound to make it more accessible for a wider audience.

The first track “Miner” sets off with two bangs on a gun-like sounding snare, with a hushed Spunt reciting “I want you choosing me, I feel a common breeze.” As a quiet beginning, it foreshadows a loud and noisy storm.

“Eraser” is the first pre-released track off of Nouns. When I first heard this track on their myspace, I was underwhelmed; I was afraid that they had made a change for the worse, sound wise. Thankfully, the song is just a bad representation for the rest of the album.

What is nice to hear is the clarity of the vocals. Before, Spunt’s voice was hidden underneath raunchy distortion which made listeners focus on the sound more. Because of this newfound transparency of the vocals, it put his lyrics to the test.

Some may be discouraged by some of the lyrical offerings in Nouns’ tracks, which are full of odd and nonsensical word pairings. A flow is prevalent, but otherwise most of the lyrics don’t make sense (at least not to me).

One obvious difference between Nouns and Weirdo Rippers is the early on presence of fuzzy filler tracks. “Cappo,” and more importantly “Keechie,” are the best examples of noise fillers. They are pointless to the album and do not bring anything to the table, except enable the band to play around with unorthodox sounds.

Once you pass the weak tracks on Nouns, “Sleeper Hold” can be found. In all of its vibrant sound, “Sleeper Hold” melds together some of the finest music No Age has put together to date. The track is blissful and finely crafted. The emphasized lyric “With passion” resonates ironically throughout the recording.

By “Errand Boy,” the realization should already have been established that No Age enjoys the restraining limits of ambient and punk noise, as previously mentioned. The bad thing is all noise sounds basically the same- fuzz, fuzz, distortion, reverb, reverb, and so on. It’s repetitious, and No Age should not stoop to such a bland style of music.

“Here Should Be My Home” is up there with “Sleeper Hold.” It is a flawless tune with musical muscle to boot. Randall’s riffs beam through Spunt’s crisp cymbals. The lyrics are autobiographical with “jumped on the tube, just to see you. My heart’s in a tunnel baby, what can I do?”

As Nouns come to an end, the familiar No Age style is loudly heard with “Brain Burner.” In some ways it sounds like a farewell; Randall’s guitar work stems off in the distance like a speeding car in a chase across the borders. The drums and guitar weave in and out of each other stirring up a solid mix of clash and clamor. In the last line of the song Spunt sings (this time with more energy) “It’s not a cop, it’s not a dad, but look what I have become.” Truly sentimental lyrics set to a punk sound.

Nouns is a good album. The efforts of Spunt and Randall are heard, but they just have to get rid of those useless noise fillers. Otherwise, everything they did was solid and shows their growing maturity in the fun noise punk scene.

- By Erin Mae Szrankowski

(NOTE: Due to a backlog in albums and shows, Mr. Dogg will be back reviewing on Monday. In the mean time, enjoy the fine fine people helping him out today and tomorrow.)

Tuesday, June 17

Some Kind of Something

Artist: Algernon Cadwallader
Some Kind of Cadwallader

Comments: Upon first spins, I can understand why Algernon Cadwallader’s debut LP, Some Kind Of Cadwallader, wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The lyrics are consistently unintelligible, the music is rarely in that pop ready 4/4/ time, the vocalists miss their notes as often as they hit them, and the band has a tendency to “kitchen sink” their music, throwing everything into a song at the same time, and the album does tend to run together so that if one isn’t focused, the thing will play like one big long track.

So no, Some Kind Of Cadwallader is not for you if you have a taste for simple, straightforward music with limited depth and no longevity. However, for people who prefer their music reusable instead of disposable, then Algernon Cadwallader will be right up your alley.

If I had to put the band into a genre (which I guess I do, since most folks probably haven’t heard the record yet), I would classify them as mid 90s post hardcore. This is music that was not quite as poetic as the early emo of, say, Sunny Day Real Estate, or as chaotic as something like Fugazi or Rites of Spring. A nice middle ground of overlapping guitars and shouted choruses that weren’t important for what they said, but for how they sounded.

Really, the best mark by which to measure this band is the missing link between Cap n’ Jazz and American Football. Not to suggest that those Kinsella-powered bands are so far appart that they need a missing link, but Algernon Cadwallaer slides neatly between the two, borrowing the spastic, melodic howling of Cap n' and the complex, elegant guitar work of AF.

Considering how heavily the band seems to be drawing from these two influences, they are able to keep themselves from tipping into outright theft, cautiously walking a thin line of inspiration. Tracks like “Casual Discussion in a Dome Between Two Temples” and “Horror” are aflutter with calming, yet complex guitar music that rock just enough to keep them from being pure emo fair. On the other end of the spectrum, tracks like “Motivational Song” show enough restraint to hold the band in check, keeping themselves from flying off the track and just making a wild mess of the song.

What I'm trying to say so laboriously here is that the band has polish. They're talented folks who obvious practice a shit-load, and their precision shines through on the album.

At least in the instrumentation. The vocals are a different beast all together. Wild, whiney, and almost always dancing in and out of key, they'll either enchant or repel the listener. There's not too much going on lyrically on Some Kind of Cadwallader, but lyrics aren't really the point. The vocals are just another instrument, another tool to create additional melody for a song. If you like hearing and singing along to every word, this isn’t for you. If you like just making a sound, then you'll dig in.

The best parts of this album come at the beginning and end of the album, with the two tracks that push the band past their Chicago-based influences to a sound that I would all entirely their own. On “Some Kind of Cadwallader” and “Serial Killer Status,” the two best songs on the album, the band does everything right. These two songs bookend the album beautifully, both more rocking tracks that don’t substitute grit for melody. If they can write more songs like these two, they'll be breaking out of the Philly scene in no time.

My only hope for Algernon Cadwallader is that they have more longevity than the bands they imitate so much. I'd love to hear another album like Some Kind of Cadwallader, a refreshing throwback to a time when emo wasn't so goddamn whiny, and was a little more, well, emotional.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Some Kind of Cadwallader, Horror, Motivational Song, Serial Killer Status

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy

Monday, June 16

Red Ripe With Riffs, Rivers, but no Revival

Artist: Weezer
Weezer (The Red Album)

Comments: A few years ago, Weezer released what was universally regarded as their worst studio album.

Of course, this is the second time in their career that this had happened. Back in the mid 90s, critics and fair-weather fans alike rejected Pinkerton, Weezer's emotional, personal second album. However, where that album is now seen as a high water mark for alternative rock and a testament to the fickle and short-sighted viewpoint of most critics and casual music listeners, odds are that good that there won't be a Make Believe revival seven years from now.

It stands to reason then, if we are to assume the bottom fell out with Make Believe, then Weezer's next album has to be better by default. After all, where can you go after you hit bottom?

The Red Album, while miles better than their last studio release, is not the revival that some fans were hoping for. I'll admit, I was drinking the cool-aid on this revival idea myself. After hearing the album's first single, “Pork and Beans,” which is catchy and witty, with a wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, brought back memories of “Don't Let Go,” and even “Buddy Holly.” Coupled with the color-coding of the album and the magnificently silly album cover, I was prepared to be 12 all over again.

Well that didn't happen. What happened instead was I learned to appreciate the new Weezer, which isn't hard when you imagine how much fun the band probably had recording this album. “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” is a five minute rock-opera mess, but it's easy to forgive considering how fucking fun it sounds. The same can be said of “Troublemaker” and “Everybody Get Dangerous,” the latter boasting the best bridge on the album, and one of the better ones in the Weezer catalog.

Most of the tracks here are standard Weezer fair, musically; big guitars, big hooks, big fun. The band has been made for the stadium since The Green Album, and that giant rock sound continues here, for the most part. The deviation comes in the back half of the album, which features three songs written and sung by the other three dudes in Weezer. While it's cool that the band is starting to shift it up some, only bass player Scott Shriner's “Cold Dark World” holds up.

Despite the early release of “Pork and Beans,” which had given many people (like me) the (ultimately false) hope that Rivers Cuomo had returned to form, lyrically. The man has never been a poet by stretch of the imagination, but his hyper-awareness of his band as a media target has really fucked him from a songwriting standpoint. A good portion of the album (the first three songs) are sneering, almost bitter tracks about Cuomo's newfound celebrity that are saved by sardonic humor. The rest of his contributions aren't anything to write home about; I can think of some pretty good lyrics and I can recall some really cringe-worthy shit, too.

The band only totally fails once on the album, on the putrid “Heart Songs.” I'd really rather not get too much into it, as I think it might be the second worst song the band has ever done. The lyrics, which aim for melancholy nostalgia, miss the mark by miles, and the instrumentation makes the song play more like an R&B track than anything else. And Cuomo borrowed whatever the hell T-Pain uses to make his voice sound stupid.

That being said, there are a few songs that work completely, and suggest that the self-conscious nerd-rock of the 90s isn't totally dead. There's the aforementioned “Pork and Beans,” and the album closer “The Angel and the One,” which recalls the band's quite, sadder, better times.

Those looking for Weezer to sing about half-Japanese girls and 12-sided die best find Doc Brown 1.21 giggawats, because those days are past. The Red Album, ultimately, sounds like the beginning of a new chapter for Weezer. They might never again write the kind of songs they used to, the kind that spoke to a generation of average chumps with low self-esteem and dreams of guitar solos, but they still make quality rock music, and they'll occasionally turn your head. If nothing else, the band is having fun again, and after the disaster we'd all like the Make Believe never happened, that's pretty good to hear.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn), Pork and Beans, Cold Dark World, The Angel and the One

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Thursday, June 12

Brighter is Better Than "Country" Suggests

Artist: Drive-By Truckers

Album: Brighter Than Creation's Dark

Comments: I’ve got plenty of pet peeves, but a major one is when people claim to like “anything but country.” I forget who said it, but someone once made the point that country is like any other genre of art; some of it is really good, some of it is total crap, and the rest of it falls in between the two extremes. It just seems ignorant to discount an entire genre of music because Toby Keith sucks.

Its also a huge insult to groups like the Drive-By Truckers, whose most recent album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, is one of the better albums of the year, and probably the best country record of 2008 (this includes the latest Old 97s’, which I raved about last week).

Let me get my criticism out of the way early. The album ,clocking in at over an hour and 19 tracks total, is entirely too long. The band should have left a few of these tracks, like the poorly-named-and-even-more-poorly-executed “You and Your Crystal Meth,” and some tracks do tend to lose their punch on repeat listens. “The Man I Shot,” for example, sat on my chest like a tucker-out wooly mammoth the first time I heard it, but it has since lost its sheen for me. And calling this thing an album is a bit misleading, as it plays more like a collection of songs than a declaration of meaning.

That being said, this album boats some of the finest song-writing and expert musicianship I’ve ever heard from a country album. The Drive By Truckers employ two singers who write and perform songs almost evenly, and their dichotomy between aging good old boy (Mike Cooley) and reformed roughneck with a family (Patterson Hood) is exciting to listen to.

Usually, when a songwriter gets a family, work tends to soften and slow down, making tracks sappy and soft. That’s not the case with Hood, as he takes his love for his family and molds it into something touching, hopeful, longing and sad all at the same time. “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” and “The Righteous Path” are both excellent examples that prove a tied-down man can still produce.

Cooley, while not having the same sense of focused purpose as Patterson, produces some inspired character sketches (“Bob”), commentary on the everyday life of a working stiff (“Dimes Down”), and examines the generations as rock and roll lives and (maybe) dies (the exceptional “Self-Destructive Zones”).

The music may have banjos and steel and guitars with twang, but writing off such well structured and captivating music as “country” is to rob the Drive-By Truckers of what they’ve accomplished here. This is American music, for anyone who has ever longed for the open road, tasted the sweet joy of cold beer after a hot day, or held their newborn child in their hands. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is a two-man triumph that is both personal and perennial, and always impressive.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Key Tracks: Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife, Dimes Down, The Righteous Path, Self Destructive Zones, The Opening Act, Daddy Needs a Drink, Self-Destructive Zones

Buy, Steal, or Skip: Buy!

Tuesday, June 3

Train Disaster Songs for the Soul

Artist: Old 97's
Album: Blame it on Gravity

Comments: Four years ago, the Old 97's seemed dead in the water. Besides a few good cuts, their sixth album, Drag it Up, played like, well, a drag and lead singer and songwriter Rhett Miller was more focused on releasing his second solo album, The Believer, then revitalizing the alt-country powerhouse that allowed him such indulgences. Even the most optimistic fans couldn't help shake the feeling that the boys wouldn't be back in town.

When bands go into slumps, the pandering usually begins. The limping group looks to please their core fans by attempting to return to their "old" sound. This strategy fails more often than not; either the band is too far gone to recapture their earlier magic or the fans recognize the efforts as hollow and pale when compared to the good stuff. If this is applied to the Old 97's, one would assume that their 7th studio album, Blame it on Gravity, would be a flaccid attempt at returning to more of the alt-country rock that won hearts on albums like Too Far To Care and Wreck Your Life.

Thankfully, that assumption is only half right. Blame it on Gravity does move away from the white-teeth, mix-tape pop of the band's later records and more towards their Texas cow-punk roots. But the album is anything but flaccid. In fact, it's the most focused and well-constructed album since their 1998 masterpiece, Too Far to Care.

From note one of "The Fool," its obvious that the boys are back in town. The rhythm section, long one of the tightest in the land, sounds as seaworthy as ever, and main ax man Ken Bethea is once again cutting songs to ribbons with big rock licks that play like distorted sunsets. While the song is desperately in need of a stronger hook, it's great to hear the dudes rocking out again.

Things pick up on "Dance with Me," a song about naive girls on vacation and the cynical locals who dance with them. It's a bitter, clever track that plays like a mariachi revenge song and is as close to snarling as Miller has come in years. The band once again shines, taking their country rock and displaying it through a south-of-the-boarder setting. Miller's songwriting is a sharp as ever, still mixing his trademark razor-sharp wit and "down-on-my-luck-lover" persona with fantastic results.

Everything on the album plays like homecoming; the band sounds refreshed and ready for the first time in years. All the wheels spin cleanly; the rockers rock (the aforementioned "Dance with Me" and the thumping,jumping "Early Morning"), and the ballads are a punchy and sweet as they've ever been (No Baby I, I Will Remain).

The albums two finest tracks play back to back at the end of the album, and serve as the exclamation point to the band's revival. Album closer "The One," a song about the band robbing banks across the southwest, is currently The Number One Summer Jam at Left of the Dial. Bethea's guitar provides the catchy melody that is the backbone of this would-be hit, while Miller's honey-sweet voice paints the band as the most charming bandits ever to steal a dime. The other standout is the slow, melancholy waltz of "The Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue," which is given density and weight by bassist Murray Hammond's dog-sad croon. While "The One" is more flashy, more instantly likable, it is the tender longing of "Lonely Heart" that will stick to the ribs long after the album has left the disc changer.

Sure, there are nits to pick. The rocking pace of the album hurts a few of the more poppy numbers. Bethea's guitar does tend to walk over a few songs. And the country twang comes off as cheesy shmatlz on one track, the runty "She Loves The Sunset." Still, Blame it on Gravity is a high water mark for a band that seemed all but finished four years ago. With Miller's romantic heart beating and his poet's tongue wagging, coupled with the determined pace of the rhythm section and Bethea's guitar going for the throat, it's hard to find a better alt-country band than the Old 97's.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: The One, Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue, Dance with Me, I Will Remain, No Baby I, Here's to the Halcyon

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy it, fool.