Rhett Miller says you can tell what his Old 97's bandmates don't like about his songwriting by his solo work, which typically features songs that get booted by the rest of the group. If that's the case, the Old 97's' voting majority might want to rethink their strategy, given the strength and depth of Miller's fourth foray beyond the Americana confines of his regular band.
Written after the death of his grandmother and suicide of his literary hero David Foster Wallace, Miller takes a darkly philosophical angle on "Like Love" ("We all want things that we'll never afford/Like a house filled with laughter every night") and "Caroline" ("I am my own worst enemy"), but he often sets those melancholy ruminations to almost spritely pop that Ryan Adams would be glad to own ("If It's Not Love"). By contrast, some of Miller's more hopeful messages are couched in his best torch and twang ("Bonfire"). Then there's "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore," the album's opener, where the band plays a visceral electric waltz, while Miller cracks on the chorus' high note in the kind of song that Elvis Costello has made famous. With work this consistently strong, the Old 97's better take care or they'll vote Rhett Miller right into permanent solo status. — Brian Baker