Originally intended to be a double-album, The Grand Theatre was ultimately split into two halves: 2010’s Vol. 1 and its equally tuneful sequel, Vol. 2. The Old 97’s have spent years combining the dusty twang of Texas country with the melodic jangle of British pop, but both Grand Theatre albums bring that sound into sharper focus, presenting a band that wears its middle-age with style. On Vol. 2, Rhett Miller serenades would-be lovers (“I’m a Trainwreck”), apologizes to their shocked parents (“Brown Haired Daughter”), and offers up a number of sharply worded character studies (“The Actor,” “Ivy”), crooning the lyrics one minute and stumbling his way through boozy cowpunk verses the next. His foil, as always, is bassist Murry Hammond, a songwriter in the traditional Texas mold who tends to sing the band’s most country-centric songs. Hammond tries something different on “White Port,” though, channeling his inner scallywag while grunting the verses like a wizened Irish sailor. He yodels at the end of the chorus, just for good measure, smartly reminding us that the Old 97’s -- transatlantic influences be damned -- are still a Texas band. Vol. 2 shows the full breadth of the group’s sound, from the ballads to the rockers to the various gems in between.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey