Oct 8, 2015

Album Review: The Bottle Rockets - South Broadway Athletic Club

By Kevin Broughton

In the beginning, there was Uncle Tupelo. And the Bottle Rockets.

Technically, there was Gram Parsons, then Steve Earle. But if there’s a Ground-and-Year Zero for the alt.country revival/renaissance (whatever that was), it’s the early 1990s and a stretch of the Mississippi River Valley near St. Louis.  

A public divorce – really more of a crib death – did Uncle Tupelo in. And almost a quarter-century later, the Bottle Rockets are still getting it done. Few acts in the genre before or since have captured the blue-collar, everyman ethos the way front man/lyricist Brian Henneman has, and on South Broadway Athletic Club, he’s eased into middle age comfortably and without losing a step.

Recorded in his native St. Louis – and for the first time, at a slow enough place to ensure quality control, by Henneman’s telling – South Broadway is the band’s 11th studio album and first with Bloodshot Records. A note about the label: No indie outfit has done more, as their Twitter bio (@BSHQ) points out to “champion the music that lurks between the labels since 1994.” Just check the talent-rich roster…and support an artist or two by making a purchase.

“Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)” opens the album in Henneman’s trademark wry style with a dash of Roger Miller-esque word play. “There’s just no controllin’ this rollin’ with the flow, when it’s almost have past now a while ago.” An aging cow-punk rocker meets the digital age, more exasperated than pissed.

Henneman’s characters have historically ranged somewhere on the worn-down/desperate/cynical continuum. This time around some of them actually enjoy a bit of whimsy.

“XOYOU” is a river rat’s tribute to Tom Jones. If the Welsh crooner/sex symbol had grown up in Festus, Mo., he’d have had just such a raw sensibility. With a twang.

“Smile” is a simple, happy love song. Two and a half minutes of pop sensibility that you can’t not like; it’s as efficient and optimistic as early Heartbreakers.

But the best two-minute toe-tapper of the bunch is “Dog:” Sometimes life is really just this simple. I love my dog.

God, ain’t it the truth? The Bottle rockets have arrived at a spot, looked around, and said, This ain’t all bad. It’s a little different, but all good.


South Broadway Athletic Club is available from Bloodshot, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

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