People often wince at the mention of the music genre “alternative country.” That is, if they have even heard of it. It is clear that perceptions of this music revolve around overly dramatic lyrics, leggy blondes with names like Faith, and grown men wearing too-tight jeans.
While alternative also brings to mind several negative connotations, it also can be reminiscent of a time in which music was completely honest. Alternative country calls back to the days of bands such as The Replacements and Sugar.
Currently riding the innovative undercurrent of alternative country is the band Old 971s. Rather than drawing on cheesy sounds of conventional country music, the purveyors of alternative country would more likely cite influences such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. The Old 971s, a Dallas foursome, is currently touring in support of its new release, Satellite Rides (Elektra).
Blending pop lyrics, an almost religious use of the tambourine, and a twangy guitar produces an album that proves incredibly catchy and refreshing tunes. Satellite Rides captures much of the essence of the early mid-western rock that set the stage for the alternative explosion of the early 1990s. It borrows heavily from the foundations laid by Memphis1 Big Star in the late 160s and continued through the work of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements in Minneapolis in the 180s.
Just as the alternative country genre is nothing new, the Old 971s is hardly a newcomer to the scene. The band has been around since 1993, releasing six albums starting with Hitchhike to Rhome in 1994.
What differentiates the Old 971s from classic artists is its embrace of rock1s early country roots. Borrowing its name from the title of a Johnny Cash song, the Old 971s explores lyrical themes of loneliness and evil women that are so prevalent in classic country releases. On a number of the songs on Satellite Rides, such as “Am I Too Late,” the band dives right into the ho-down, up-beat tempo of a full-blown country hootenanny. With the help of bands such as Wilco, Sun Volt and Golden Smog, the Old 971s infuses some much-needed life into rock On1 roll.
While many rock On1 roll fans cringe at the mere thought of country music, country bands incorporate the greatest features into a song-writing process that produces classic, catchy and important songs. As rock fans must remember, rock as a genre did not simply materialize as an abstraction of some early 150s collective consciousness. Rather, it evolved from several sources, including country music. The Old 971s revisits these roots to bring forth an invigorating take on rock On1 roll music. And for all of the retro posturing that the Old 971s may be guilty of, the band has managed to produce a new album – one that says to listeners, “It is OK to tap your feet and sing along with a smile on your face.”
Satellite Rides is in stores now