Review: Old 97’s are still rocking in middle age

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Old 97’s, “Most Messed Up” (Ato)

The new album from the Old 97’s shows you don’t have to be young and stupid to make great rock ‘n’ roll. Being middle-aged can work, too.

At 43, frontman Rhett Miller might be old enough to remember Chico Escuela. “Rock ‘n’ roll’s been very, very good to me,” he sings. “Most Messed Up” is a concept album, that rarity in these days of downloads, and Miller’s exuberant embrace of excess and escapism makes for 12 terrific tunes. Guitarist Ken Bethea’s cheerfully frantic fret work helps establish the mood, and with ex-Replacement Tommy Stinson sitting in, several songs sound like ‘Mats outtakes.

This is ramshackle rock, but not carefree. Miller sings about oceans of alcohol, mountains of weed, the ups and downs of pill-popping and the charms of the road, such as motels with free ice. But he has one eye on the clock, noting that life’s so short, there’s barely time to cry. Make room for at least a few of these three-minute gems.

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