Archive for critic’s picks

chris stapleton’s round 2 ignites on ‘vol. 1’

chris stapleton.

At the half-way point of his sublime sophomore album “From a Room: Volume 1,” Chris Stapleton attempts to rattle the cage of a relationship – in all likelihood, a marriage – long steeped in domestic purgatory. During a sobering tune called “Either Way,” both parties keep up appearances to the outside world but live a wholly separated existence, talking only “when the monthly bills are due.” Then, as the song reaches its chorus, the stark denouement is reached. “You can go, you can stay,” Stapleton sings in that now familiar, soul-inscribed country voice. “I won’t love you either way.”

Now, here’s the kicker. Even if another Nashville songwriter could have designed a song of similarly unsentimental torment, they would have weighed it down with strings and other obvious anthemic devices to make sure it was a weeper of cinematic proportions. What Stapleton and producer Dave Cobb do is let the song essentially sing itself. All you hear is Stapleton’s singing, which packs the potency of a cyclone, and a lone acoustic guitar. In short, the song is left to bleed before your ears with raw, uncompromising urgency.

“Either Way” also serves as a crossroads for “From a Room: Volume 1.” It’s a line of demarcation separating music of unvarnished country tradition from sounds that soar into heavier soul and R&B terrain, territory the Lexington-born, Paintsville-raised artist is as versed in as the Nashville lexicon that earned him a glowing reputation as a songwriter and, more recently, performer.

The country material is pretty comprehensive in tone and thematic intent. The opening “Broken Halos” turns country outlaw references inside out to become a coarse affirmation that preaches patience. “Don’t go looking for the reasons, don’t go asking Jesus why,” Stapleton sings in a mood as contemplative as it is pleading. “When I’m meant to know the answers, they’ll belong to the by and by.”

A cover of the 1982 Willie Nelson hit “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” (the album’s only non-original tune) blows in like a desert wind, arid but comforting, before “Up to No Good Livin’ strikes up a forlorn waltz as it unravels the saga of a reveler (“People call me the Picasso of painting the town”) and his hard won redemption.

But the latter half of “From a Room, Volume 1” turns the lights way down. “I Was Wrong” is all after hours blues – dangerous, electric and refreshing ragged – while “Without Your Love” settles into deeper, darker and more quietly desperate terrain. After a slight reprieve for the hapless recreation of “Them Stems” the record reaches rock bottom with the closing “Death Row,” a prisoner’s unapologetic self-eulogy that seeks understanding more than forgiveness against a slow, doomsday groove. Don’t wait for this one on country radio.

Released two years to the day from when the Grammy-winning debut album “Traveler” hit stores to slowly but very surely introduce Stapleton to the masses, ‘From a Room: Volume 1” reflects a very unforced assuredness as it travels two very different paths. One winds around the country traditions at the heart of Stapleton’s songwriting. The other, which utilizes that earthshaking voice, takes him decidedly away from them. It also leaves you hanging, like any good story will, for where such a journey will take him once “Volume 2” rolls our way later this year.

critic’s pick: preservation hall jazz band, ‘so it is’

Give a blindfold listen to the first two tunes on “So It Is” and the act that comes to mind will likely not be the one making the music – the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, purveyor of the most vintage traditions of New Orleans music.

What ignites the album-opening title track is the upright bass of current PHJB chieftain Ben Jaffe, who co-produced “So It Is” with TV on the Radio’s David Sitek and co-wrote all of the record’s seven compositions. That’s the first clue – acoustic bass, not the usual PHJB underpinning of tuba. Then the song loosens into a late night groove propelled by pianist Kyle Roussel that revels in the kind of boppish, lanky cool one might expect out of New York. But all this is a set up for “Santiago,” a work that explodes into an immediate and quite natural Afro-Cuban groove with Roussel, Jaffe and 84 year old saxophonist Charlie Gabriel (who penned the work with Jaffe). There, the secret of “So It Is” reveals itself. Sure, you can detect hints of New Orleans second line drives throughout the album and a touch of Jelly Roll Morton within Roussell’s jovial playing. But that undercurrent of Dixieland swing that distinguished the PHJB up until the last decade? Forget that. The present day lineup is out to conquer the world – or, at least, the stylistic turf of a prominent regional neighbor.

That’s not to say “So It Is” is in any way a sellout. What unfolds is a rugged, organic sound with a strongly boppish approach to ensemble groove and soloing that utilizes the band’s Crescent City heritage as a launch pad rather than a backdrop.

“La Malanga” perhaps best showcases this decidedly non-revivalist approach with a robust bass, piano and percussion attack that propels the PHJB’s four member horn team with a fearsome ensemble bounce. The rampage, in turn, splinters into criss-crossing exchanges that require a monstrous piano break from Roussel to disperse. Prior to that, “Innocence” tempers the album’s tone but not the sentiment with a lush Cuban groove where Roussel jangles away on Wurlitzer.

The journey ends up back in New Orleans with “Mad.” The song’s hand-clapping, brass happy groove fuels the fun with a “gang vocal” spree (the album’s only non-instrumental passage) that will be bouncing around your brain after just one listen. Guaranteed. The tune is like a welcome home party for a conquering hero of a band that saw the sights, absorbed the inspirations and took them back to Crescent City to mix in the musical gumbo that has always been brewing in the backyard.

(The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been added to the late night lineup at Forecastle in Louisville. It will play a midnight concert on July 15 aboard the Belle of Louisville. For more info, go to forecastlefest.com.)

critic’s pick: ray davies, “americana”

The notion of Ray Davies – headmaster of the Kinks for over three decades, the Lord Mayor of British pop when it began a global invasion in the 1960s – making an album titled “Americana” initially seems unfathomable. Few artists have so been stylistically loyal to home and heritage. Then again, Davies has long been a journeyman with a fascination for American culture. Check out the brilliant 1971 Kinks album “Muswell Hillbillies” to witness the fascinating continental shift that often surfaces in his songs.

So we now have “Americana,” Davies first solo album in nearly a decade, a record mistakenly viewed in early reviews as a love letter to these shores. It isn’t. The work is an often flattering portrait, especially in its literal view of landscape and customs (Kentucky gets two shout-outs in the first three songs). But it doesn’t skirt over blemishes. “The Deal,” for instance, traces a hustler’s West Coast rise to becoming “a (expletive) millionaire” with a chorus that paraphrases Gershwin (“isn’t it wonderful, marvelous?”) before inverting to reveal the ugly American underneath (“totally fabulous, fraudulent, bogus and unreal”). If that wasn’t enough, the song also channels the Kinks in a descending guitar chord Davies has employed numerous times (most notably on 1965’s “Tired of Waiting for You”) before slipping in an entire verse of 1986’s forgotten “How Are You” as the tune fades.

Davies’ thematic as well as stylistic devotion to his material on “Americana” extends to employing The Jayhawks as a backup ensemble. It’s not group chieftain Gary Louris who figures prominently in the alliance, though, but vocalist/keyboardist Karen Grotberg, who duets with Davies on the travelogue-by-train tune “A Place in Your Heart.” It struts along with a jamboree-style variation of the Kinks’ trademark pop, but leans to the bittersweet.

True to form, there are many instances where the sounds inhabiting “Americana” live up to the album title. “The Mystery Room” slinks along with an infectious mash-up of Cajun, blues and earthy roots-rock. “A Long Drive Home to Texarkana” lingers with the elegiac feel of a classic ballad that the mirror mile markers, literal and figurative, within the song. But the album closing “Wings of Fantasy” is all Kinks-style pop in full royal splendor.

Davies sings with his usual casual, animated authority, but there is now an unmistakable weariness in his voice, especially in two spoken word passages, “The Man Upstairs” and “Silent Movie.” The latter also reveals a sense of jealous mortality as he recounts a conversation with Alex Chilton about how a song is ageless while the artist singing it isn’t. “It cheats time and makes you feel safe,” Chilton told him. “But the reality is things are changing in the world.”

“Americana,” then, offers a view of a changing landscape, both adored and ridiculed, as presented by one of the most learned pop statesmen of any age.

critic’s picks: the jazz at lincoln center orchestra with wynton marsalis featuring jon batiste, ‘the music of john lewis’

There are five sterling minutes early into the “The Music of John Lewis,” a deeply satisfying new concert recording by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, where guest artist Jon Batiste gives the host ensemble a break in order to seek the spirit of a gentle jazz giant on his own. What results is a sublime solo reading of “Django,” one of Lewis’ many signature tunes with the Modern Jazz Quartet from over a half century ago. For the composer it was an ode to the famed gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and reflected an inherent sense of swing with the kind of reserved elegance only Lewis could summon. In Baptiste’s version, the song becomes a more global travelogue criss-crossing between its Euro-classical heritage and Americanized struts through New Orleans, a region Baptiste and Jazz at Lincoln Center trumpeter/musical director Wynton Marsalis know well.

Marsalis and the Orchestra, perhaps more than any other nationally recognized jazz performance institution, are scholars at presenting retrospective primer programs designed to enlighten new generations to the career works of jazz masters without making the music sound stuffy or overly academic. But they are really in their element when they veer off more obvious stylistic paths. Lewis and the MJQ were hardly hermits, but with all of the group members long deceased, its sound now falls in danger of being forgotten. What a quietly glorious sound it was, too. Its music was the epitome of jazz cool and refinement with a novel instrumental design of piano, vibraphone bass and drums.

As usual, Marsalis and the Orchestra don’t set out to recreate the music, especially in terms of arrangements. For instance, the slinky turns of clarinet by Victor Goines introducing the album opening quintet reading of  “2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West” suggests a blues variation on Gershwin (an inspiration that later plays out far more literally on “Delaunay’s Dilemma”) before guest guitarist Doug Wamble sets the blues in stone with a wiry, heavily atmospheric solo. Batiste then enters bearing a beautifully channeled inhabitation of Lewis’ piano grace.

The Orchestra’s dynamics later set up an animated exchange between Batiste and Marsalis during “Piazza Navona” that leap frogs between ensemble swing and more pastoral reprieves.

It should be noted that the performance from which “The Music of John Lewis” was taken was presented in January 2013, a full 2 ½ years before Batiste’s career broke open with his nightly television residency as bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” This recording shows how complete an artist Batiste already was by rescuing the repertoire of a stylist being edged closer to jazz oblivion and subsequently providing the music a new platform for a new generation. The results are sublime.

various artists “outlaw: celebrating the music of waylon jennings”

Remember after Johnny Cash died when scores of country celebs started donning “Cash” t-shirts in an effort to assert what a personal and heartfelt influence he was even though their newest albums sounded like warmed over Jimmy Buffett records?

Well, on “Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings,” a roster of more Americana inclined stylists and hardcore country traditionalists put their musical minds and souls where their wallets normally are. The record chronicles a 2015 tribute concert held for Waylon Jennings, the late Lone Star stylist and figurehead performer of the so-called “outlaw country” movement that ripped Nashville out of its bank of safe, self-pitying songs and tossed it onto the highway of life, along with all the danger elements that came with it.

Given the Buffett-ization of modern country, very few Nashville celebs inhabit “Outlaw,” although a few Kentucky ambassadors show no shyness in taking the wheel. Right out of the starting gate, Chris Stapleton detonates the party with “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” the Rodney Crowell tune Jennings scored a major hit with in 1979. Not only do Stapleton’s unaffected but soul-saturated vocals cruise with consummate authority, the tune establishes in its first line what the whole outlaw movement, as well as Jennings’ ascent within it, was about. “I look for trouble and I found it, son – straight down the barrel of a lawman’s gun.”

Then on the accompanying DVD to “Outlaw,” another Kentucky renegade, Sturgill Simpson, slides with Southern dignity through the 1974 Lee Clayton-penned Jennings hit, “Memories of You and I.” Simpson has regularly discounted stylistic comparisons to Jennings, but the influence of the country icon’s slow smoked reflection is as regal as it is undeniable.

“Outlaw” also boasts fine performances by Robert Earl Keen (a beat crazy bust-up of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”), Kacey Musgraves (a lovely, longing take on “The Wurtlizer Prize”), Jamey Johnson (on a gorgeously spacious and patient “Freedom to Stay”), Shooter Jennings (a dramatic barroom reading of “Whistlers and Jugglers”) and Alison Krauss (a stunning, graceful “Dreaming My Dreams of You” that sounds like it was written just for her).

But the whole party comes back to Kentucky when Willie Nelson and Stapleton team for one of the great duets the former cut with Jennings at the height of the Outlaw movement over four decades ago, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Though age has begun to show some wear in Nelson’s voice (he was 81 at the time of this show, for crying out loud), his sense of steadfast soul remains undiminished. Hearing Stapleton beside him, full of a youthful brand of the same rustic spirit, makes “Outlaw” more than a simple tribute. It’s a righteous, roaring passing of the generational torch.

critic’s pick: the sadies, ‘northern passages’

Before we run away with spring, let’s rewind for a moment so as to catch up with a delectable little recording that surfaced in early February. It comes to us from The Sadies, one of hippest acts out of the Great White North. Within its grooves are varying layers of country psychedelia, a sound the band and its sibling guitarists/singers Dallas and Travis Good have been perfecting for the past two decades. But lest you think some kind of askew musical regionalism is at work, consider the album’s title – “Northern Passages” and its cover art of the Aurora Borealis in full incandescent splendor. That’s when you know exactly where the allegiance of the Good brothers sits.

The thing is, “Northern Passages” carries with it a trait the most of the Sadies’ other nine studio albums possess – a musical lexicon of luscious contrasts. One moment it’s all hazy, plaintive country mystique (as on the album-opening “Riverview Fog”). Then as soon as you settle into a sense of reflection, the walls crash down with a pair of garage rock intrusions (“Another Season Again” and “There Are No Words”). The mood settles again as the Goods yield the floor to Kurt Vile for a guest lead vocal and co-write on “It’s Easy (Like Walking),” a tune sporting a dark hued but infectious chorus that sounds like Drive-By Truckers’ Mike Cooley in an after hours mood.

Musically, it all sounds like the Sadies have been soaking in inspiration from well below the Canadian border. But dig past the very appealing sounds and you discover storylines of less boundary-specific unrest. A case in point is the corrupted romance at the center of “The Good Years.” Under its storyline of liquor and drug-induced doom sits a country sentiment that doubles as a simple but crushing reality check (“She can’t miss a man she never knew”). Of course, the song’s musical atmosphere eschews anything remotely country – by contemporary standards, that is – for a dark, ominous shuffle. It’s the musical equivalent of a midnight drive along a deserted stretch of highway.

There are loads of other treats, as well, including the politically rooted “God Bless the Infidels,” a waltz that rips along with the cosmic country charm of the Byrds during the height of Clarence White’s electric tenure, and the brilliantly paced “Questions I’ve Never Asked,” which initially wears its country longing openly before erupting into a full psychedelic meltdown.

Servicing as an exquisite coda is the “The Noise Museum,” a instrumental rich in twang, reverb, guitar jangle and the kind of distant wordless vocalizing that suggests this ghost train roaring through Canada began somewhere in the ‘60s before arriving so gloriously in the here and now.

critic’s pick: the doors, “the doors: 50th anniversary deluxe edition”

How integral was 1967 to the future of contemporary pop and rock music? To start with, consider the number of keystone artists who issued debut albums that year: Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol Harum, Traffic, Cat Stevens, The Nice, Ten Years After, Tangerine Dream, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Captain Beefheart and Arlo Guthrie.

Oh yes – and The Doors. Four days into the year, the self-titled debut by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore surfaced, the product of a Los Angeles scene out to counter the psychedelic invention emanating up north out of San Franscisco.

Though re-issued several times since then, “The Doors” has been spruced up once more in a spiffy boxed set package. The components are a disc of the album’s original stereo mix (previously available), its original mono mix (previously unavailable, save for a limited vinyl edition issued in 2010), a new vinyl pressing (of the mono mix) and a new, truncated version of “Live at the Matrix” (more on than in a moment).

Audiophiles will likely argue until the next millennium about the specific virtues of the stereo vs. mono mixes. To my ears, mono always wins out. But listening to both, one after the other, affirmed what a masterfully produced record “The Doors” was. You hear that in the way Manzarek’s jazzy organ intro and Morrison’s near-baritone vocal suggest cool before the hullabaloo explodes on the opening “Break on Through.” But the effect is as much a credit to the precision of producer Paul Rothchild and engineers Bruce Botnick and Doug Sax. Ditto for the way the band and production crew team to capture the 12 minute psyche-fest finale “The End,” a descent into the pop maelstrom that likely scared the daylights out of every unsuspecting parent that heard it blaring from their kids’ stereos.

The “Live at the Matrix” disc is the curiosity. Rhino first issued it in a more complete form in 2008, but with audio quality barely above bootleg level. This version, though limited to eight songs (performed in the order they appear on “The Doors”) boasts considerably sharper quality. Still, hearing Morrison and company perform rampaging groove-a-thons like “Soul Kitchen” and unnerving meditations like “The Crystal Ship” as an unknown act before an audience that offered little more then perfunctory applause is peculiar indeed.

If “The Doors” was the sound of a raging tempest, this cleaned up “Live at the Matrix” presents us with the gathering storm. A half century later, both stand as documents of a juggernaut band whose vitality, influence and importance have only grown more brilliant.

critic’s picks: tedeschi trucks band, ‘live from the fox oakland’; gary clark jr., ‘live/north america 2016’

Live recordings can be many things. They can help fill the void between studio projects, they can fulfill obligations of a recording contract or, if enough thought and purpose is provided, they can reveal the immediacy and dynamics of an artist in ways studio albums strive to but seldom achieve.

Two wonderful new live albums by Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gary Clark Jr. opt for the latter. Both are vital documents of artists that thrive in a concert setting but also serve as statements by new generation artists favoring a soul, blues and rock blend born out of the 1960s. It should also be noted that TTB’s “Live from the Fox Oakland” and Clark’s “Live/North America 2016” are the second concert recordings by both acts, so they are well versed in preserving a live performance for posterity.

On the surface, one might also surmise these works represent the live adventures of gifted guitar stylists. While that certainly holds true for Derek Trucks’ playing throughout “Live from the Fox Oakland,” from the bright Southern soul struts draping “Don’t Drift Away” to his learned jazz excursion during a tripped out raga reading of George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You,” there is so much more happening in these grooves. Topping the ingredients are the vocals of Susan Tedeschi and Mike Mattison, the colors of brass and vocal trios and a cumulative sensibility that makes TTB sound like an astute hybrid of Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” band and Sly and the Family Stone.

The highlights include a gospel friendly version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” (from a performance given two months prior to the master songsmith’s death last fall) and the 14 minute version of the soul savvy tent revival party piece “I Want More” that morphs through passages of Traffic-like psychedelics before falling back to earth with the closing groove of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.”

It’s only natural that Clark’s “Live/North America 2016” focuses more succinctly on guitar play as he is one of the decade’s more heralded successors to Jimi Hendrix’s brand of electric mayhem. Though echoes of Hendrix surface frequently, Clark is no imitator. The opening “Grinder” suggests the late ‘60s/early ‘70s with its hazy, purposeful groove. But the record later veers onto expressways of vintage soul via Clark’s sleek falsetto during “Cold Blooded” and a summit with guest vocalist Leon Bridges on “Shake” (not the Otis Redding classic, but an original and far grimier rumble).

Best of all, Clark doesn’t overplay here the way he did on his earlier studio records. A marked maturity reveals itself in the heavy but purposeful grind of “When My Train Pulls In” and a righteously ragged solo take on Elmore James’ “My Baby’s Gone” that beautifully validates Clark’s ascension to guitar rock royalty.

critic’s picks: bela fleck, ‘the juno concerto’ – danny barnes, ‘stove up’ – noam pikelny, ‘universal favorite’

Here we have engaging new works from three generational pioneers of the banjo, each exhibiting their often maligned and stereotyped instrument in a trio of radically different settings. Bela Fleck’s “The Juno Concerto” unleashes it with a full symphony, Danny Barnes’ “Stove Up” opts for a traditional bluegrass combo environment and Noam Pikelny’s “Universal Favorite” goes it completely alone. All are strikingly original projects that, because of the dramatic contrasts within the music they promote, unlock seemingly boundless possibilities for an instrumental voice still viewed by some as a purely rudimentary accent of the rural South and Appalachia.

Fleck is an old hand at this type of mythbusting. Even so, “The June Concerto” is quite a feat. Though hardly his first foray into classical music, this collaboration with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Luis Gomez is a rich and astonishing work, from the instant the banjo makes its entrance during “Movement 1” amid contained orchestral luster to the way the instrument leads the full symphonic charge of “Movement 3” while retaining a sound within Fleck’s impossibly nimble runs that is alternately commanding and giddy.

The recording is fleshed out by two equally dynamic pieces with the contemporary chamber ensemble Brooklyn Rider, the loose and lively “Griff” (titled, in true Fleck fashion, because the piece is constructed around a G riff) and a starker, stately “Quintet for Banjo and Strings” co-written with longtime pal Edgar Meyer in 1984, making it Fleck’s first classical work.

Danny Barnes is probably the least known of these three titans, but has very independently become one of the great innovators of banjo music over the past two decades, taking it into modern realms of jazz and electronica as well as the most ancient corners of traditional music and pre-bluegrass country.

The fact that “Stove Up” is a straight up, scholarly bluegrass session might not seem a revelation unless you know how seldom Barnes has traveled this path on record in the past. But once you hear him and a pack of bluegrass pros (that include past and present members of the Del McCoury Band) make the Rolling Stones “Factory Girl” sound like Flatt & Scruggs while making the Scruggs staple “Flint Hill Special” sound both reverential and original, you understand the depth of Barnes’ scholarly bluegrass insight.

Punch Brother Pikelny’s “Universal Favorite” is a pokerfaced triumph, an unaccompanied set of banjo pieces that regularly suggest Fleck’s warp speed tenacity, as on “Waveland.” The album is curiously colored by Pikelny’s baritone singing, which gives these tunes a stoic commoners’ touch. But the agility and daring of the musicianship here makes Pikelny a storied successor to the trails Fleck and Barnes blazed ahead of him.

critic’s pick: the old 97’s, “graveyard whistling”

The Old 97’s play as if the devil was truly on the band’s tail at on the onset of the new “Graveyard Whistling.” Against a frantic electric shuffle, a wall of guitar distortion and Rhett Miller’s reverb soaked vocals, the veteran Dallas troupe sound like the Son of the Pioneers crossed with Link Wray. It’s pop. It’s punk. It’s an Americana dervish. There is even a spot-on title to top off the intro tune’s electric Western mayhem – “I Don’t Want to Die in This Town.”

The results also continue a trademark sound that has distinguished the Old 97’s for just shy of 25 years. It’s remarkable the band – Miller, guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murry Hammond and drummer Philip Peeples – has carried on so long without a personnel change and with its overall sense of musical purpose intact. Not all of “Graveyard Whistling” matches the night train propulsion of “I Don’t Want to Die in This Town,” although “Good With God,” a piledriver of a collaboration with Brandi Carlisle that pins its turbo twang to a saga of a restless but proudly unapologetic protagonist (“I’ve got a soul that’s good and flawed”), comes close. Mostly, “Graveyard Whistling” is immensely spirited, darkly hued, ragged alt-country tinged fun with a lyrical menace that always keeps the Old 97’s cruising somewhere in the shadows.

Miller remains at the helm for most of this mischief. For the better part of the band’s history, he has been a quirky assimilation of cross-generational inspiration that falls somewhere between Buddy Holly and David Byrne. That mix surges to the surface on “Jesus Loves You,” a tune that bears a melodic similarity to the Holly classic “Everyday” although the music here has been revved up to a fearsome shuffle. The lyrics are a hoot, too, outlining the overtures of a come-on artist facing insurmountable competition for the affections of his intended (“You say Jesus love you, but what about me?”).

Similarly clever is “She Hates Everybody,” which essentially flips the narrative to detail a romance where a connection is made at the expense of the rest of humanity (“I miss her when she’s gone, my misanthrope”). Here, the drive downshifts to a jamboree groove that provides the tune the necessary lyricism to become one of the season’s most peculiar but inviting sing-a-longs.

Think that’s wild? Then get a load of the album-closing “Those Were the Days,” a play-by-play of hoodwink adventures that begins by crashing a retirement home (“We ate some Jello, we ate some Vicodin and tap danced for the old folks, and they all thought we were crazy”) before a chemically-enhanced tour of Central Park (“We floated off the grass into the galaxy”) bleeds into a “doo-doo-doo” chorus of pure pop confection.

That’s “Graveyard Whistling” in a nutshell – a journey that begins like a demon locomotive and ends by tripping to the stars. In short, the Old 97’s are merrily rocking on.

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