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*** 1/2, OLD 97'S "Satellite Rides," Elektra

March 18, 2001|STEVE APPLEFORD

Purists will always object. As long as the Old 97's are saddled with the "alternative country" label, the Dallas-based quartet's every move into pop, punk and other styles will seem like an affront, a betrayal. But like Wilco before them, the Old 97's leave such concerns even further behind on the wide-ranging "Satellite Rides."

The irony is that the band remains a lot closer to classic country than most music emerging from the Nashville machine. But there is just as much punk influence here, with "King of All the World" edging toward the Replacements and landing at the place where Uncle Tupelo overlaps with the wiseacre rock of Cracker.

Even more tearful than 1999's alternately rocking and moving "Fight Songs," the new album charts a seemingly endless supply of heartbreak. It peaks early with the sad and joyous "Rollerskate Skinny," with singer-guitarist Rhett Miller lamenting "I believe in love, but it don't believe in me" like a man who is finally reconciled to the idea.

The Old 97's find passion and fun on the romantic rave-up "Am I Too Late," and dive into the chunky western rhythm of "Nervous Guy," a dry ballad ready for Johnny Cash. The musical vision belongs mostly to Miller, but bassist-singer Murray Hammond adds some welcome power-pop on "Can't Get a Line." Which is just one more reason not to be a purist.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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