Rhett Miller is either blessed or cursed—not sure which—with such a distinctive musical sound that Old 97’s have been writing and recording songs for years that hew to a familiar vibe. This is a nice way of saying that their songs tend to sound the same. I will quickly add that this is a feature not a bug if you are a fan of this sound.
But maybe it takes a musical force of nature like Brandi Carlile to shove the amiable Dallas band out of its comfort zone for four minutes. To be sure, “Good With God” still adheres to one of Old 97’s two basic musical formats—there are the shuffly head-bopping songs, and the chugging, train-rhythm songs, with tempos that can vary slightly in each camp; this one’s a chugger. But the discordant guitar noise that introduces the song alerts us right away that we may here be breaking the mold a bit. And sure enough, even when it settles into the familiar rhythm, the echoey Western guitar line feels instantly self-possessed, and Miller dives into the eight-measure melody with headlong restraint, if that contradiction makes sense. (I like the little hiccup the song makes at 0:35, as if bracing itself for what is still to come.)
So the first verse is Miller singing as some smug pretty boy who imagines that his earthly transgressions aren’t that bad in the scheme of things, that his lip service to the almighty keeps him on the good side of the heavenly register. Cue furious guitar solo. On its heels comes Carlile, a bundle of sharpened fury, voice distorted in a subtly uncanny way. She’s not so nice, she tells him. Watch out. Now then, Miller did signal the plot twist (i.e., female God) in the last lyric of the song’s narrator, who sings, “All’s I know’s I’m good with God/I wonder how she feels about me,” and at first I’m thinking, hm, is this joker the kind to even conceive of a female Creator, never mind employ such a casual reference? But then I’m thinking yes maybe he is precisely that kind of joker. All the worse for him when Brandi Carlile shows up. I’d forgotten what an impressive singer she is. Stick around for the guitar coda, which acquires a grim-reaper-y kind of glee as it climbs up the neck.
“Good With God” is from Graveyard Whistling, the band’s eleventh studio album, recorded at the same rural Texas studio as its 1997 debut, and released back in February. The MP3 comes, yet again, from KEXP.