If you didn’t know better, you’d swear after hearing the first few bars of “Nancy Sinatra,” the opening song on the Bottle Rockets’ Brand New Year, that you were listening to an unearthed early recording from ZZ Top.
The Bottle Rockets have an uncanny ability to create the kind of raunchy electric guitar wall of crunch that conjures up images of rockin’ dudes with long beards. But on subsequent cuts on their latest CD, the Bottle Rockets reveal the true depth and breadth of their talent.
The sound of multiple layers of fully cranked electric guitars has a primal effect on the human psyche. The Bottle Rockets tap into this primitive power. Whether the songs are about cultural icons, the evils of the modern world (“Helpless”), or the importance of saving the beer in times of stress (“The Bar’s on Fire”), they have a raw rock and roll energy that can’t be denied.
Chief songwriter Brian Henneman brings a hypercritical sensibility to bear on all matter of subjects both sacred and profane. My favorite song on Brand New Year is “White Boy Blues,” a tribute to the archetypical vintage guitar owner. Ouch!
Despite their raw power and big-boned strength, the songs on Brand New Year represent highly polished studio efforts.
And if you’d like to hear what the Bottle Rockets sound like when they relax, their new Leftovers CD will fit the bill. Populated by more acoustic guitar and even an occasional mandolin and fiddle, they let their hair let down so you can see their acoustic and old-time country roots.
At only slightly more than 31 minutes and only eight songs, Leftovers is short but sweet. The opening cut, “Get Down River,” feels like an old traditional number rather than a Henneman original. Its waltz rhythm, coupled with lyrics lamenting the annual spring flood, conjures up images of broken old levees and tenement shacks. My favorite song on the album, “My Own Cadillac,” features Henneman playing a “drunk Firebird.” It sort of lurches along rhythmically, with a surly edge that feels as if Hank William’s ghost was hovering over the drum kit.
If you like your music nice and neat, the Bottle Rockets probably won’t float your boat. But if you can cotton to music that lets its rough side show, the Bottle Rockets should be on your short list of new bands worth paying attention to.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.