After 2008's dismal Blame It on Gravity, Old 97's get some of their mojo back on their eighth studio album. Recorded mostly live at a 100-year-old hall in their hometown of Dallas, the first part of The Grand Theatre (the second will arrive sometime next year) isn't a stuffy, haughty artifact, like the title implies. In fact, it's the band's loosest set of rockers since 2001's Satellite Rides. Frontman Rhett Miller takes some of the big pop hooks found on his solo albums and applies them to Old 97's' familiar alt-country stomps. "Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)" and "The Magician" charge forward without stopping to glance at the trail of damage behind them. And "Champaign, Illinois" rewrites Bob Dylan's classic "Desolation Row" as a less bleak place. The Grand Theatre Volume One hits a roadblock for two blah songs by the band's bass player, but for most of the ride it's full steam ahead. — Michael Gallucci
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