June 25, 2009

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Rhett Miller, Rhett Miller
Shout Factory Records, June 9

You (sort of) know what to expect from Rhett Miller as leader of alt-country big-shots Old 97’s, the band still made up of the same four dudes who gave us 1993’s Hitchhike to Rhome (a record soaked in the same cowpoke slide-guitars to which they returned in last year’s Blame It On Gravity). As a solo artist, Miller is most rebellious toward his fans, getting all city-fied and whatnot, and the tradition continues in this fourth solo record, blasphemously bereft of slide guitar for the first three songs. But forget Texas and stuff; this album is proof that he’s a strong songwriter, not a one-trick Pal-o-mine-o, channeling Tommy-era Pete Townshend in the melodically robust grower “Nobody Says I Love You Anymore” (lyrically he does tend to be a little fatalists-R-us, yes, but be prepared to tune into a Ray Davies — or spaceshot stoner, take your pick — headset, not Mopey and the Mopeingtons). Punkish speedster “Happy Birthday Don’t Die” straddles the line between Replacements and “19th Nervous Breakdown”; Jack Johnson gets a wink in “Another Girlfriend”; “If It’s Not Love” owes its soul to Elvis Costello. B+Eric W. Saeger