Today’s Cool Albums of the Day (#s 891 and 892 in the Series) are The Bottle Rockets – The Bottle Rockets, The Brooklyn Side
When it comes to game changing bands that first began surfing the banzai pipeline of the Americana tidal wave that began in the early 1990’s and gained momentum in the new millennium, The Bottle Rockets, along with The Blasters, Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and The Old 97’s, were among the first explorers to plant the Roots-Rock flag on American soil, and now, courtesy of Bloodshot records, we are treated to a re-mastered, deluxe edition treatment of the band’s first two albums, The Bottle Rockets, and The Brooklyn Side.
Formed in 1992, from the not so musical hot-bed of Festus, Missouri, The Bottle Rockets, largely on the staunch Midwestern shoulders of Brian Henneman, the lead singer and principle songwriter for the band, released their eponymous album in 1993 to somewhat of a muted response from the record buying public, with cd buyers at the initial listen having a bit of a problem compartmentalizing this incendiary live band that delivered an ear-appetizing deli tray of Blues, Rock-A-Billy, Soul, Country, Folk, and good old Bruce Springsteen, common man meets Woody Guthrie hobo-traveller songwriting.
This first album features an energetic blend of Replacements style ramshackle rock with a raw sort of Crazy Horse vibe in places, creating a sound that seems both familiar and wildly intoxicating at the same time. The introspective banjo-centric opener “Early in the Morning,” the rocker ode to lust at the pump, “Gas Girl,” and the Neil Young sounding “Trailer Mama, ” are three disparate examples of the artistic textures present on this album. Pound for pound, the best songs are probably “Kerosene,” a tour de force ballad, and “Wave That Flag,” a political anthem that adds the soul to the heart of an album that has a lot of both. With the amplifier turned up to 11 on the Alternative Country credibility scale courtesy of backing vocal contributions by the Lennon and McCartney of Americana artists, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, this album should have received a lot more notoriety when it was originally released, and the record, along with the band, was critically acclaimed, and criminally ignored.
Much like what The Ramones eponymous album in 1976 did for punk, and what Nevermind did for Grunge, The Bottle Rockets sophomore record, The Brooklyn Side enhanced the Roots-Rock, Americana template, and with the spot-on poignant, hard-scrabble everyman narratives provided the foundation that effectively helped transition folk music from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the bars and honky tonks of Middle America, Austin, Brooklyn, and beyond.
The stunner on this album comes right from jump street with “Welfare Music,” a song of ripped from the headlines desperation that was released in 1994, but could have been written yesterday.
Quit school when she was 17, Senator on T.V. calls her welfare queen/ Used to be daddy’s little girl, now she needs help in this mean old world/Buys cassette tapes in the bargain bin, loves Carlene Carter and Loretta Lynn/Tries to have fun on a Saturday night, Sunday morning don’t shine too bright/It’s welfare music watch the baby dance/to the welfare music will she ever stand a chance.
The quiet resignation in the timbre of his voice and the sparse acoustic guitar with accompanying banjo interlude provides the perfect landscape setting mood for this powerful song that essentially and immediately adds Brian Henneman to the Mellencamp, Springsteen, Guthrie, and Neil Young American songbook.
The songs “Gravity Fails” and “I’ll Be Coming Around” take on more of rock sensibility with even a slight hint of Power-Pop, while “Radar Gun” brings the story-line front and center on this barn burning rocker that is played full-tilt boogie for all it’s worth in their live shows. The rest of the songs on the album are all equally brilliant, each eclectically diverse in their own right, and have a certain timeless quality to them.
“Thousand Dollar Car” may come about as close as any in their catalogue in capturing the essence of The Bottle Rockets in one tune, “Young Lovers in Town” provides us a shot of Hank Williams noir updated for modern times, and “Take Me to the Bank” is a Chuck Berry, 50’s, old school Rock & Roll party that is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
Taken individually, and enjoyed in sequential order, Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side provide a historical look at the growth of one of the more influential bands of the modern era. Packaged together, as Bloodshot records has done with the addition of 19 previously unreleased tracks and extensive line notes, we get a first person account of the opening salvos of the Americana, Alternative, Roots-Rock arms race from a band that has been there, done that, and is still going strong.
Recently, five random, albeit slightly inebriated, bar patrons were asked if they have ever heard of The Bottle Rockets, and only one responded affirmatively. With a 20% approval rating, about what I would have guessed from this straw-poll, there is clearly more work to be done.
The good news is that that now, in one fun-filled package, you have everything you need to know about one of the fret for fret best bands on the planet. So go forth, listen, read, and you will prosper.
Oh, and one more thing. Make sure you tell a friend.
– Walt Falconer, Houston Texas, USA
1. Early in the Morning
2. Gas Girl
3. Trailer Mama
4. Wave That Flag
6. Every Kinda Everything
7. Got What I Wanted
8. Manhattan Countryside
9. Rural Route
10. Bud Nanney Theme
11. The Very Last Time
12. Hey Moon
13. Lonely Cowboy
14. Indianapolis (1991 Acoustic Demo with Uncle Tupelo’s Jeff Tweedy & Jay Farrar)
15. Manhattan Countryside (1991 Acoustic Demo with Uncle Tupelo’s Jeff Tweedy & Jay Farrar)
16. Wallflower (1991 Acoustic Demo with Uncle Tupelo’s Jeff Tweedy & Jay Farrar)
17. Idiot’s Revenge (1991 Acoustic Demo with Uncle Tupelo’s Jeff Tweedy & Jay Farrar)
18. Dead Dog Memories (Acoustic Demo)
19. Hey Moon (1993 Radio Performance on Thirsty Ear)
20. Get Down River (1993 Radio Performance on Thirsty Ear)
21. White Trash (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
22. Radar Gun (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
23. Lonely Cowboy (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
24. Coffee Monkey (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
25. Wave That Flag (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
26. Brand New Year (1989 Chicken Truck Version)
1. Welfare Music
2. Gravity Fails
3. I’ll Be Comin’ Around
4. Radar Gun
5. Sunday Sports
6. Pot of Gold
7. 1000 Dollar Car
8. Idiot’s Revenge
9. Young Lovers in Town
10. Take Me to the Bank
11. What More Can I Do
12. Stuck in a Rut
13. I Wanna Come Home
14. Queen of the World
15. This Is What It Sounds Like When You’re Listening to Lindsey Buckingham and Thinking of Your Friend’s Girlfriend at the Same Time (1994 Acoustic Demo) [Stream]
16. Building Chryslers (1994 Acoustic Demo)
17. Smokin’ 100s Alone (1994 Acoustic Demo)
18. Truck Driving Man (Previously Unreleased Track)
19. Welfare Music (1994 Live at Mercury Lounge)
20. Farmer John (1994 Live at Mercury Lounge)