The Messenger 5/10
old 97s frontman’s fifth solo outing
Rhett Miller’s day-job band The Old 97s have experienced an unlikely resurgence this decade, with a string of albums (plus a holiday record) that recapture some of the alt.country boisterousness of their early efforts. But the frontman and chief songwriter can’t muster much excitement on his fifth solo album, The Messenger. Working with producer Sam Cohen (Kevin Morby, Curtis Harding), Miller opts for a lean sound rooted in R&B and ’60s pop, but even the Temptations bassline on “Wheels” can get this album rolling. Once a songwriter with a deft facility for catchy hooks, his melodies droop under the lethargic tempos, turning his self-deprecation into something like self-absorption.