Rhett Miller

Record review

SXSW Records

Rhett Miller

The Believer (Verve)

It's no secret that the Old 97's have always been better live. Even now, the Dallas-based band's radio-ready power chords still sound better with a little cowboy-boot stomp. That said, longtime fans will hardly be surprised at the near total lack of stomp on The Believer, the second full-fledged solo effort from 97's frontman Rhett Miller. There's no question Miller can wring plenty of twisted emotion out of tender love songs. He's one hell of a songwriter. Problem is that even when working with über-producers Jon Brion and George Drakoulias, Miller misses his bandmates. The best cut on the album is closer "Question," a love song in miniature that cites the 97's as composing pardners. Another highpoint is Miller's sexy sonnet "Fireflies," featuring Rachael Yamagata. Yet, having filed the rough edges off would-be hits like the Elliott Smith-inspired opener "My Valentine" and "Singular Girl," which could be repackaged for the phone company as "Cingular Girl" (the 10% finders fee can be mailed here in care of the paper), Miller erases the thin line that divides mainstream from merely mediocre. Not that anyone will stop believing in Miller or his band of stomp hounds. (Saturday, March 18, 9pm @ Stubb's)

**

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