For 16 years‚ Festus‚ Missouri's own have been cranking out the kind of barroom rock 'n' roll that's as good for hootin' and hollerin' as it is for crying in your beer. Hook laden and crunchy‚ by turns anthemic and political‚ rowdy and unabashedly introspective‚ the Rockets' point their compass needle straight at the Heartland.
Of course‚ scores of musicians and solo artists have done the same. But few (Bruce Springsteen and Dave Alvin to name a couple of those) have written music that is organic to the culture rather than merely about it. In the Bottle Rockets' universe‚ assholes‚ idiots‚ and rednecks abound--but so do familial love and earned heartache among people who are simply trying to do better for being born holding the shit end of the stick.
In Lean Forward the Bottle Rockets present another solid entry in a series of albums for roots label Bloodshot Records. Once again‚ the focus is on those who have seen better days‚ and are hoping to see more. When Brian Henneman sings Hard times‚ that's nothin'. Hard times pass. I ain't broke down‚ I'm just outta gas‚ he could be speaking for any number of folks for whom the recession began decades ago and will probably never end.
After all this time‚ Rockets fans aren't foolish enough to expect dramatic innovation here. But the range on Lean Forward is pretty broad‚ from the proto-punk of "The Way It Used to Be" to the B-3 joy of "Slip Away‚" and the open-faced confession of "Solitaire." The songwriting is as solid an effort as they've made--with the exception of "The Kid Next Door‚" which wallows in all the clichés of the Johnny gone to war genre with little effect.
Like their namesakes‚ The Bottle Rockets have risen and burned brightly before crashing to Earth. So will this be the record that sends them skyward again? One wonders if the boys in the band aren't a little bit hopeful. In the album's opener‚ "The Long Way‚" Henneman puts it into words: The long way isn't the wrong way‚ and a wrong turn isn't the end‚ if it's understood maybe somethin' good is comin' atcha round the bend. The Bottle Rockets have taken the long way. Maybe it's time.