The photos included within the liner notes for 1997’s Too Far to Care — the Old 97’s’ breakthrough third album and first for the big boys at Elektra — make the band members look like a bunch of fresh-faced geeks on leave from a test-cramming session at a college library. Lead singer Rhett Miller looks especially meek, his foppish haircut and large glasses dominating a boyish face that doesn’t look a day over 18 years old.
The album’s opening guitar riff to “Timebomb,” a jolt of jagged, countrified Rockabilly that would have both Billy Zoom and Merle Haggard nodding in approval, obliterates whatever image the photos might conjure almost immediately. The second song, the ache-laden “Barrier Reef,” finds the singer, who was actually 26 at the time, pimping his penchant for one-night stands (“My name is Stewart Ransom Miller/I’m a serial lady killer”) while the emotive twang from Ken Bethea’s versatile guitar playing undercuts the lyrics’ surface bravado. Eleven more songs follow, all playing off the first two in one way or another and all confirming that the Old 97’s were more than just another bar band from Dallas.
The quartet, which also includes bassist Murray Hammond and drummer Philip Peeples, is celebrating the 15-year anniversary of Too Far to Care’s release with a tour that has them playing the album in sequential order. That will be followed by a set culled from the band’s other albums, which include such Roots Pop classics as 1999’s Fight Songs and 2001’s Satellite Rides.
OLD 97'S perform Friday, Feb. 15 at Southgate House Revival in Newport. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.