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Published: 2011/08/17
by Brian Robbins

Bottle Rockets
Not So Loud

Bloodshot Records

For my money, the true measure of a band’s depth, grit, and wallop is to hand them some acoustic instruments and have them go at it. The real stuff will still be there, without an effects pedal in sight. From Jimi Hendrix and his lone 12-string on “Hear My Train A Comin’” way back when to STS9’s Axe The Cables album from last year, there are times when nothing can take the place of acoustic music for getting to the heart and soul of a song.

With an 18-year history of real-as-real-gets rock ‘n’ roll under their belt, the St. Louis-based Bottle Rockets sat their asses down for the recording of Not So Loud at the now-defunct Lucas School House back in April of 2007. Solidbodies were traded for dreadnaughts, along with some mandolin, banjo, upright bass, and straight-ahead harmonica in all the right places. And over the course of the 13 cuts on Not So Loud the Bottle Rockets turn in a performance that’ll kick your butt, spin your head around, and make you think, wince, and maybe even sigh – without a single red-hot amp tube or speaker cone threatening to puke its guts out.

Don’t be mistaking a lack of wattage for a lack of power, boys and girls – far from it. “Rural Route” stomps the boards right off the back porch in a one-chord spiral that hoots, hollers, settles right down into a leetle teeny rumble, then explodes onto a full-blast joyous roar underpinned by a workboot that threatens to go right down through the floor. The glistening lap steel against the strummed acoustics on “Kerosene” sounds lovely – but listen to the words and prepare for the impact of the grim story it tells.

Even when it’s just lead Rocket Brian Henneman himself with a banjo in his lap, the music packs a punch. Offering his opinion of living life “Early In The Morning”, Henneman nails the total impossibility of even considering such an act: “I know dark/I know night/Smoke-filled bars and neon light/Anything that’s not as bright/As early in the morning.” The banjo lurches, digging at its eyes and knocking everything off the nightstand in a fumbled search for a cigarette. It’s nitty, gritty, and honest. So’s the stumbled-up love of “One Of You”: in a perfect world, the narrator wouldn’t need her to help him out to the van, but it’s too late for that. And if he doesn’t come right out and say that he loves her, John Horton’s mandolin seals the deal without words. (Horton turns in a bunch of killer stringed moments on the album, including some neat lap steel work on a cover of Doug Sahm’s “I Don’t Want To Go Home”, weaving around Henneman’s vocals.)

Hell, pay attention to Not So Loud and you might even learn something. Dig the second-rack-of-beer logic of “Thousand Dollar Car”: “If a thousand dollar car was truly worth a damn/Then why would anybody ever spend ten grand?/Oh, why did I ever buy a thousand dollar car?” Or let yourself get caught up in the Ronnie Lane-like sweetness of “Kit Kat Clock” which manages to wrap an arm around the shoulders of both the young and the old.

If you’re a longtime Bottle Rocket fan, there’s plenty here to love. Trust me: you won’t miss the crunch and the steam. And if you’ve held them at bay for a while because of some preconceived notion of all roar and no substance, take a listen to Not So Loud and find out just how wrong you were.

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