OLD 97’S — “Graveyard Whistling”
THE GOOD: Texas alt-country and roots-rock band Old 97’s is still roaring on its 10th studio outing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some of its records are better than others, but the band has NEVER made a BAD album. And after almost a quarter-century of churning out authentic honky-tonk tinged rock ‘n’ roll, “Graveyard” proves frontman Rhett Miller and his boys aren’t slowing down anytime soon. The band doesn’t alter its formula one bit, but why would it? “Graveyard” is the usual mix of rousing drunken sing-alongs (“Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls”), introspective and moody down-tempo bits (“All Who Wander”) and a couple of tracks where Miller once again plays the boyfriend who can’t catch a break (“Jesus Loves You”).
Extremely tight without a bad track, “Graveyard Whistling” will satisfy long-time fans while giving newbies a decent set with which to discover Texas’ greatest bar band.
BUY IT?: Yep.

SON VOLT — “Notes of Blue”
THE GOOD: Alt-country and roots rock mainstays Son Volt return with a concise eighth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Last time, frontman and guiding spirit Jay Farrar led his crew through a laid-back set of rockabilly and country swagger (2013’s “Honky Tonk”). Four years later, the band leaves behind the Buck Owens “Bakersfield” influences and moves toward the Deep South.
Despite some quieter moments, such as the swaying opener “Promise the World” and the solemn “The Storm,” “Notes of Blue” is a much more plugged-in affair. Son Volt has never shied away from sheer volume and fuzzy distortion, and those elements certainly are present here. Stomping rhythms and crackling electric guitars carry tracks such as “Cherokee St” and “Lost Souls” — a little less Nashville, a little more swamp rock.
Yet Farrar paints “Notes” with many different SHADES of blue, lending his down-home drawl to all of the extremes while coating each moment with the right amount of mud and grit.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE SHINS – “Heartworms”
THE GOOD: Pacific Northwest indie rockers the Shins return with an accomplished fifth after a five-year hiatus.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Shins is essentially singer/songwriter/producer/instrumentalist James Mercer and a small studio/touring band. Whether the other people are official members of the group probably changes daily. It’s been that way since 2012’s “Port of Morrow.” Mercer likes to call the shots. This is NOT a democracy.
Yet the guy has the songwriting chops it takes in order to call those shots. Band or not, the Shins concoct succinct catchy tracks boasting memorable tunes and semi-intricate yet uncluttered arrangements. Mercer possesses some progressive tendencies, but he never lets them overshadow a fantastic hook breaking out atop a live or even slightly synthetic backbeat (“Painting a Hole” is even more spacey than Mercer’s Danger Mouse collaboration Broken Bells).
Those craving the more down-home tones of 2001’s “Oh, Inverted World” will devour the semi-autobiographical “Mildenhall” or the rambling and rolling “The Fear.”
BUY IT?: Yes.