The first three Old 97's albums belong in the canon of alt-country's mid-'90s heyday; the third, Too Far to Care, is desert island disc-worthy, no matter the genre. The next two—especially 2001's Satellite Rides—ably explore frontman/songwriter Rhett Miller's preternatural pop instinct. What has happened since has been solid but unremarkable, which is why the veteran Dallas quartet's new album Most Messed Up is the most pleasant surprise of 2014. All the hallmarks of the classic 97's sound are there: Ken Bethea's reliable, country-fried leads, Philip Peeples' shuffling drumbeats, Murry Hammond's oohs, aahs, and high harmonies, and Miller's winky, winsome vocals. Most Messed Up sounds like a lost recording from 1996, unearthed for a new generation of roots-curious rockers who need to know it's possible to swagger and twang at the same time. That the Old 97's might just be the best example of this in 2014 is positively stunning. BEN SALMON
128 NE Russell, Portland, OR 97212
Hours: Ballroom open for events only, Cafe open: Tues-Sat 5 pm-"late"