Cemetery walls are lined with the tombstones of band bones that have come and gone in the two decades that Old 97’s have stayed the course for Alt Country that the Dallas, Texas-based group helped orchestrate. Survival keeps a bounce in their step as Old 97’s pass through the rock’n’roll boot hill with a smirk and a smile on their recent release, Whistling Graveyard. The album opens on a dark highway with radio static making it tough to clearly make out whether it is Frank (Sinatra) or Sid (Vicious) singing ‘my way’ to the rock’n’roll band making a getaway in “I Don’t Wanna Die in This Town”. Graveyard Whistling slings out memories as Old 97’s pop Vicodin and jello in “Those Were the Days”, pens a love letter to the girl with only one man in her heart as “She Hates Everybody”, channels the ghostly wind blowing souls over the ruins of “All Who Wander”, and raises a toast with the over-caffeinated beat brew in “Drinkin’ Song”.
The recording of Graveyard Whistling took Old 97’s back to the remote studio that sits in a middle of a two thousand acre pecan farm close to the Mexican border. Village Productions in Tornillo, Texas was the spot that Old 97’s recorded their major label (Elektra Records) debut in 1996. The album (Too Far to Care) followed two independent releases by the four-piece. The original members of the quartet (Rhett Miller-vocals, Ken Bethea-guitars, Murry Hammond-bass, Phillip Peeples) and producer Vance Powell returned to Tornillo for Graveyard Whistling to show that time has done little to tarnish the sonic shine of Old 97’s. Rhett Miller immediately took to the idea of bordering the recordings, recalling that ‘we knew instantly that it was the perfect move. We weren’t trying to remake Too Far to Care, but to make something where fans would say, ‘This band hasn’t lost a step in twenty-some years’’.
Old 97’s acknowledge that their course is receiving a nod from heaven as they confess, along with Brandi Carlisle, that they are “Good with God”, while admitting “I wonder how she feels about me’. Graveyard Whistling churns out a rock and reel for “Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls”, surfs on wiggling guitar lines with “Nobody” and makes a wish with “Bad Luck Charm” as Old 97’s disclose that not only their music has maintained commitment in “Turns Out I’m Trouble”.