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