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If catchiness is a crime, then somebody lock up Rhett Miller's songs and throw away the key. The Instigator, the second solo release from Miller of early alt-country club members the Old 97's (a pre-97's effort presented Miller as a Texas Morrissey, an oxymoron for sure), boasts the hookiest and sing-alongiest collection of songs I've encountered this year. Miller (pictured right) swears that the Old 97's haven't broken up, making The Instigator less a solo-career launch and more a busman's holiday, and joining Miller at various stops on the ride are such distinguished vets as John Doe, Robyn Hitchcock, and Jim Keltner. The affair was overseen--and, to a large degree, instrumentally driven--by pop maestro Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright), and the album travels full steam ahead in the poppier direction taken by the Old 97's on their last two albums. Catch Miller, 97's-less but still supported by a crack band, at Cat's Cradle on Monday, Nov. 11. --Rick Cornell

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