The Bottle Rockets, a guitar oriented Rock n Roll band from St. Louis, MO recently released their latest album Lean Forward on Bloodshot Records. Lean Forward was recorded in New York and produced by Eric Ambel.
Disclaimer: I am a big Bottle Rockets fan but I’ll try to be as objective as possible.
The Bottle Rockets have staked their rightful place among the alt-country elite, and they have the history to back it up. Lead singer and guitarist Brian Henneman was guitar tech for Uncle Tupelo in the latter days of that famous band and also played guitar on Wilco’s first album so naturally, he draws influence from rock and country and punk sources. And much of the Bottle Rockets sound from their back catalog would fit in nicely in a classic rock station playlist alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Rolling Stones, if only a terrestrial radio program manager would have the guts to slot them in.
Lean Forward is a perfect next step in the logical progression of the band. Alt-country fans will not be disappointed in the album as there is still a lot of twang in their sound. However, the band may be able to add some new fans based on the overall strength of the songs.
And the songs stand out on their own. Like in the old days, the leadoff track The Long Way is the single. Bringing a tunefulness that is both boisterous and mature, the song jumps out at you with a hook that will leave you humming for days. The strong drumming of original member Mark Ortmann brings the song to a close and leaves you both fighting for breath and longing for more.
Other standout tracks include the rolling Give Me Room, which could stand tall on the Stones Some Girls album: Slip Away which juxtaposes the signature dual guitar interplay that Brian Henneman and second lead guitarist John Horton seem to be perfecting on top of a funky Memphis style soul groove.
The two standout tracks are Nothin But a Driver and Hard Times. Both timely tunes, Hard Times starts with a slow burn, reminiscent of Bill Withers. The music kicks into gear with guitars fairly searing while the rhythm section of Mark Ortmann and Keith Voegele maintain a driving rock/funk groove. What brings the song home is Henneman’s realistic optimism. These are truly hard times for many of us, but those of us with a grounded head on our shoulders will emerge from these times the better for it.
Nothin’ But A Driver roughs up the Bo Diddley beat and adds some trainwreck guitar on top of it. Producer Eric Ambel coaxes some great work out the band here. With the vocals down in the mix, the music does most of the talking. Frantic freakout strumming and divebombing bring the song to life while never overdoing things. This song will have you driving fast with the windows open.
Long time Bottle Rockets fans no doubt already own this album. If you are a fan of good heartland rock and roll–melodies that sound familiar and strong but don’t pander, mixed with in-your-face energy–than do yourself a favor and pick this one up.