by John Tarpley
Since hitting its stride in the mid-'90s, alt-country has maintained a precarious position in the musical landscape. The standard-bearers of Uncle Tupelo bisected into Son Volt and Wilco, Ryan Adams became a megastar after shedding extra weight of Whiskeytown, and Drive-By Truckers upgraded their three-chord, three-minute songs for epic, ambitious lit rock. But Rhett Miller and his Old 97s have aged slowly and gracefully, toeing that rough shod road of twang and punk ethos while Jeff Tweedy is huddled away with an echo pedal and a pile of Can records. Through 13 releases, an essential best-of compilation and years of critical backslapping, Old 97s have stuck to doing what it knows well and doing it, well, well. Really well. It's a twangy blend of roots rock, British invasion and power-pop, mixed with folk heartache and classic country mope. And their live shows are notorious, shuffling blasts of pure alt-country. Little Rock's proved itself an alt-country town for years and years, so expect an elbow-to-elbow house for this one. The gypsy-tinged Texas sound of Fort Worth's Whiskey Folk Ramblers open the night.