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Published: 2004/04/27
by Jamie Lee

Brand New Year – The Bottle RocketsLeftovers – The Bottle Rockets

New West Records 6019

New West Records 6017

"Dead end rhythms, minor chords and scales, graveyard humor and a voice that laughs when it fails…." from "Skip's Song."

The old adage "less is more" has long favored a stripped down methodology, though this idea and its often-effective application in modern music is rare. These days, multilayered compositions and cumbersome song structures are the albatross around the neck of rock and roll bands; however, exceptions do occasionally fight their way through the overproduced haze with a bawdy, raw approach that smells of sweat and dirt. The Bottle Rockets sound is like an irrepressible, hacking cough born of too many cigarettes and too much whiskey. It is alive with sound, real in substance, yet rough around the edges. But like any band harbored under the heading of "alt-country" or "Americana," this Missouri-born quartet's music runs the gamut from sweat-drenched rock songs to finely tuned acoustic yarns that are skinned to the bone in style and execution.

Originally released in 1998 and 1999 respectively, The Bottle Rockets' albums Leftovers and Brand New Year are being reintroduced to audiences as reissues by the folks at New West Records, and together, the albums prove fine companion illustrations of the versatile and succinct style of this band. While verbose meditations on normal life often trickle from the mouths of the alt-country elite, The Bottle Rockets make their point in one-two punch terminology. And whether strumming a cobwebbed, country-tinged acoustic piece, or churning out a bar-brawlers soundtrack, the band’s songwriting prowess is successfully simple.

Leftovers is a collection of backwoods numbers that range from miraculously vivid, as in "Skip’s Song," to uninspired, such as the ode to java entitled "Coffee Monkey." Both tracks remain true to The Bottle Rockets workingman’s mantra, yet depict the genius, albeit sometimes uninspired, that their trademark style is built from. In all, the album is rife with the dark harmonies and unpretentious, everyday phrasing, and on songs such as "If Walls Could Talk" and "Get Down River," the band strikes a chord that is arguably the cornerstone of The Bottle Rockets sound.

Recorded little more than a year later, Brand New Year is sonically divergent, fueled by the band’s more aggressive rumblings and replete with more evenly delivered lyricism. What Leftovers boasted in hollow-bodied numbers and honky-tonk musings, the follow-up replaces with raucous, fretboard fueled rock numbers filled with anthemic interludes and boogie-woogie breakdowns. But even though their musical vehicle takes to the road with a smooth glide, the band manages to bump across the same potholes carved by repetitious ramblings. The title tracks emotional urgency (appearing twice on this album — once as a full blown rocker, and again as an afflicted lament decorated by mandolin melodies) is countered by the drone of "Gotta Get Up" and its repetitive verse that consists entirely of "Gotta get up, gotta go to work, and then I come home cause I gotta go to be cause…" (and repeat).

But over the course of Leftovers and Brand New Year, The Bottle Rockets’ curt descriptions are bolstered by their unfettered musical attack. Their sound is one of ordinary people trying to live simple lives with trivial concerns. It is a sound of occasional success and impending shortfalls, and even though recorded several years ago, both albums prove, yet again, their essential presence in the word of alt-country.

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