Graveyard Whistling (ATO)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., May 19, 2017
Eleventh album from Dallas' most celebrated alt.country export of the past quarter-century runs thick with vulnerable midlife contemplation. It's a tough look to pull off, but the center mostly holds. Bandleader Rhett Miller's most effective songwriting happens at the juncture between iconoclasm and universality, Graveyard boasting several canon keepers. "She Hates Everybody" bucks convention to celebrate the unheralded female misanthrope in an affectionately relatable manner. "Those Were the Days" subverts modern country's penchant for small town-isms by having its protagonist crash a nursing home with a head full of Vicodin and Jell-O before dropping acid in Central Park. Propelled by Philip Peeples' locomotive beat and Sergio Leone-caliber guitar leads from Ken Bethea, "Good With God" goes over the top when guest vocalist Brandi Carlile shows up in the titular role. A few songs sound precariously undercooked; "Bad Luck Charm" hews too close to Nashville standards to leave a mark. "Drinkin' Song" aims to embody an entire beery subgenre, but the bro-tastic "Hell, yes! Right on!" refrain keeps it from moving beyond set list placeholder. Even with those misfires, Graveyard Whistling keeps the Old 97's moving forward.