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Track of the Week: Old 97’s, “Dance With Me”

March 28, 2008

Even if you’re not very familiar with the Old 97’s – a lapse which, though regrettable, you couldn’t really be blamed for, considering that their heyday was during the alt-country boom of the ’90s – you may still know the band’s romantic hit “Question,” a sentimental-but-sincere proposal ballad that boys with acoustic guitars still find makes their girlfriends swoon. If that’s all you know of the band, then you probably don’t associate the Old 97’s with danger, heartbreak, or much of anything but somewhat syrupy crooning.

If you ARE a more serious fan of the Old 97’s, though, you might remember the sinister groove of “What We Talk About,” from their 1999 album Fight Songs. It’s pretty clear from “Dance With Me,” the new single from the upcoming album Blame It On Gravity, that it’s THAT sound, rather than the poppier strains of “Question,” that the Old 97’s want to hearken back to for their new release. It’s a welcome change.

Lead singer Rhett Miller is a master of the menacing build-up on the vocal (his refrain of “Do you want to dance with me?” sounds like a threat at knifepoint), and although the song’s cha-cha beat is not exactly groundbreaking (again, it’s a fairly obvious cousin of Fight Songs‘s “What We Talk About”), the guitar and driving percussion combine with the sly vocal harmonies of Miller and his compatriots to create a feeling of real danger. It’s the sound of a situation on the edge of combustion, which is something that the Old 97’s do very well. Here’s hoping that Blame It On Gravity, to be released this May, contains the same tension and excitement.

Listen to “Dance With Me” on the Old 97’s MySpace, and be sure to check out “Barrier Reef” and the fantastically punk “Four Leaf Clover” while you’re over there.

(Ellen Heddendorf)

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