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Old 97's – “Blame It On Gravity”

(New West Records) ****

Old 97's play Visulite at 8 tonight. $20. 704-358-9200. The band will also appear at Manifest Records at 6 p.m.

The Texan foursome is in fine form once again, following 2004's somewhat disappointing, rough-edged “Drag It Up.” More on the “alt” side of alt-country, Old 97's boast an incredibly well-rounded collection of jangle-pop, driving rock, surf guitar, and Tex-Mex swing.

The disc begins with a twangier take on the Who. In fact, “Gravity” evokes the legendary band's “Pinball Wizard,” as well as Soul Asylum and early-'80s jangle pop.

Frontman Rhett Miller's lyrics are at once poetic, vivid, and awash in double meanings. Combined with the crisp Telecaster riffing of Ken Bethea and diverse arrangements, the stories and clever reflections (“You've got to be a fool to be a fool in love” from “The Fool”) truly pop from the speakers.

With nary a misstep, “Gravity” is a welcome comeback.

Rachael Sage – “Chandelier”

(MPress Records) **1/2

Sage plays Evening Muse at 8 tonight. $8-$10. 704-376-3737.

With her fiery red hair and penchant for piano tunes, New York singer-songwriter Rachael Sage could easily be compared to Tori Amos, especially on her more dramatic, piano-based songs (“Vertigo,” for instance).

Although “Chandelier” has its Amos-like moments, it also shows off other sides of Sage's musical make-up with loose jazz-pop and spoken word (“Site-Seeing”), and show-tune-style instrumental pop (“Beloved”).

Her delicate vocals fall somewhere between the fragility and uniqueness of Susanna Hoffs and the quick-tongued Ani DiFranco, if DiFranco were more girly-girl.

Sage is at her best on “My Word” – a piano-pop song with a funky undercurrent – and when covering Jump Little Children on the dark, aching “Mexico” with its contradictory “I have taken you back for the last time” and “I won't let you leave” sentiments.

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