Take a message to Murry

Take a message to Murry

As they continue to recuperate from a hectic recent touring schedule, Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond of The Old 97's -- also known as The Ranchero Brothers -- will perform at Sons of Hermann Hall on August 18. The all-ages show was announced by Hammond on a pair of Old 97's-devoted mailing lists, and word has been spreading fast since then. Hammond says the gig is not supposed to be a secret show, but they're not actively promoting it. And with good reason: Ranchero Brothers performances are intended for a much smaller audience than the 600-plus The Old 97's usually attract.

The show is just the beginning of another busy few months for Hammond, Miller, and The Old 97's. "Nineteen," the second single from this year's Fight Songs, will be released to Top 40 radio stations this week, meaning several more months on the road supporting it. Next month, they plan to film a video (the band's first) for "Nineteen" and begin touring as an opening act for an as yet unconfirmed band. After that, another headlining tour and several radio-festival gigs will keep the boys busy until Christmas. The group has also started discussing locations and engineers for its fifth album, which it will probably begin recording early next year after the road stops calling.

With that in mind, Miller and Hammond have already started working on a few new Old 97's songs, something Hammond says is hard to accomplish in the middle of a tour, when downtime means sleeping and watching TV, not writing the next record's first single. The handful of songs the duo has finished thus far will be debuted at Sons of Hermann Hall in the Ranchero Brothers' simple but not simplistic Everly Brothers-style vocals, guitars, and bass sound. It's the same way the duo introduced the songs that ended up on Fight Songs in the spring and summer of last year.

However, The Ranchero Brothers aren't just a proving ground for new Old 97's material. The band has its own songs, its own fans, and soon may have its own album. Hammond says they've wanted to record as the Ranchero Brothers for a while, and Elektra Records (which released Fight Songs, as well as 1997's Too Far to Care) has given them permission to check out other labels. There is already a label interested, which Hammond says is "significant enough" that he and Miller may have to get additional consent from Elektra. If that doesn't work out, they may try to release it themselves through the Internet. But with all that's on the schedule for the Old 97's, it may be a while before they get the time to really work all of the details out. Until then, the forthcoming Ranchero Brothers album may have to be filed in the to-do box, along with the two-song single the band recorded with Waylon Jennings in 1997. Hammond insists the disc is coming out "eventually," possibly on Los Angeles-based Bong Load Records. We'll believe it when we see it.

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Shannon Sutlief