The Old 97's don't perform in Cleveland as often as they should, or so claims singer-guitarist Rhett Miller's wife. The little lady is a native of Brunswick, and Miller says he has a bunch of in-laws in the Cleveland area. A cynic would presume that's the reason Miller and his three Old 97's compatriots avoid our town. Such smart-ass notions evaporate when you listen to Miller's upbeat chatter on the joyous alt-country of the Old 97's last CD, 2004's Drag It Up
. The band, which has held the same members since 1993, has been through a lot since the turn of the century, including marriage, fatherhood, the demise of its record label, and an ugly beating of a fan by skinheads last summer at a show in the band's hometown of Dallas. Yet rather than get all introspective, Drag It Up
is a return to the more pure country-rock of the Old 97's earlier work. The four eschewed any frills, recording the CD in a former church in Woodstock, New York, using a mere eight tracks. Miller is back at that studio (he lives in nearby New Paltz), working on his second solo record, which he reveals will be influenced by the glitter-pop of T Rex. Quite a departure from the Johnny Cash-meets-the-Clash-by-way-of-the-Beatles approach of the Old 97's, but what musician wouldn't want to channel his inner Marc Bolan?