Four albums into their careers, the members of Old 97's seem to have perfected the art of crafting songs that dare listeners not to sing along. That's true of virtually every track on the new Fight Songs, which beautifully balances the bombast found so frequently on the terrific Too Far To Care with a consistent delicateness that Too Far only implied. Fierce country-rock remains the band's forte and the home base to which its songs almost invariably return, but Fight Songs finds Old 97's varying the formula in some decidedly unusual and interesting ways. On "What We Talk About," for instance, Ken Bethea lays down a snaky, Latin-esque guitar line, while "Crash On The Barrelhead" pays explicit tribute to country-rock patron saint Gram Parsons. Parsons' open-minded approach to songwriting, and uncanny knack for creating memorable heartbreak songs in a genre not exactly short of them, seems to have infected singer Rhett Miller and company, as well. Replete with cooing harmonies and featuring an irresistible bridge, the lyrically mature "19" tells its sad story with a knowingness that can only come from the passage of time. That the band doesn't forget to throw in a short, sharp guitar solo says a lot about the album as a whole: In its ambition, the group never forgets its roots. Satisfying from start to finish, Fight Songs represents a big step forward for Old 97's, a group that could easily have gotten away with standing still.