- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Drag it Up”

Old 97s

New West Records

Rarely does a band beat a full retreat to its formative years as convincingly as the Old 97s do on “Drag it Up.”

The band’s sixth album all but abandons the power pop makeover it underwent on its last two discs, “Fight Songs” (1999) and “Satellite Rides” (2001).

Heck, even the pedal steel guitar makes an unassuming return in “Drag it Up.”

Suddenly, this alt-country quartet is living up to its billing again.

For anyone weaned exclusively on the group’s recent efforts, “Drag it Up” will be a downer. Hard-core fans will rejoice, albeit temporarily. The band’s latest has more than a few highlights, but this trip back should have yielded a better fusion of old and new 97s.

“Won’t be Home” is a near revelatory start, showing the band’s aptitude for wordplay hasn’t gathered dust since lead singer Rhett Miller’s side project, “The Instigator,” two years ago.

“You’re a bottlecap away from pushing me too far,” he sings “… now I’m on wounded knee and we’re at Waterloo” — one of a dozen lip-smacking lines scattered throughout “Drag.”

The band walks on the novelty side with “Coahuila,” a clever timeout with melodic bite. “Smokers” sounds like an audition for the next Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. It’s all powerhouse guitars and attitude, let loose with appropriate bravado.

“The New Kid” features static-charged guitar licks with Mr. Miller’s falsetto occasionally breaking through. “Adelaide” sounds like the band studied Simon & Garfunkel’s songbook before entering the studio.

Maturity clearly has left its mark on the band members, reportedly tucked away with wives and youngsters in that very unrock-like place called domestic tranquility.

Who wouldn’t wish a band well? Fans might clamor for a dust-up or two — nothing serious, of course — if only to bring back the teeth that made the growing Old 97s sound one of distinction.

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