You know what they say: Sobriety is for people who can’t handle booze and drugs. Thankfully, it seems to be working out just fine for Rhett Miller.
Six years after his Old 97’s released the tellingly titled album Most Messed Up, the singer-guitarist is on the wagon — and firing on all cylinders again. Don’t be fooled by the unimaginatively on-the-nose title of the long-serving roots-rockers’ dozenth disc Twelfth; the songs inside are far more inspired, counting among the sharpest, smartest and most revealing cuts Miller has penned in his career — crackling with wiry energy and immediacy, while balancing self-analytical lyrics with his usual razor-sharp wit and wordplay. Imagine Paul Westerberg with a little less snark and a little more twang and you’re right in the zone. Just like Rhett seems to be right now. Insert your own ‘Miller Time’ joke here.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Old 97’s, the iconic alt-country outfit fronted by Rhett Miller, is returning with their 12th album, the aptly titled Twelfth. Some 27 years in, Old 97’s still features its original lineup — Miller, guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murry Hammond, and drummer Philip Peeples — and Twelfth is a testament to the band’s staying power. The album’s cover image of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach is both an homage to Miller’s childhood hero and a recognition that, in making their livings as musicians, the 97’s themselves have achieved their lifelong dreams. “Somehow what we’ve got never breaks down,” Miller sings on Twelfth. At first, the line comes off as a boast, as a declaration of invincibility from a band that’s managed to survive three decades of rock and roll debauchery, but as the phrase repeats over and over again, it slowly transforms into something more incredulous, something more vulnerable, something deeply human. “We experienced some close calls over the last few years,” says Miller, “and I think that led us to this dawning realization of the fragility of it all. At the same time, it also led us to this increased gratitude for the music and the brotherhood we’ve been so lucky to share. I think all of that combined to make recording this album one of the most intensely joyful experiences we’ve ever had as a band.”