The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year
Time to clear the decks with a repost of my writing on other blogs since my last space-filling post back in October. After this, I’ll start working on the utterly unanticipated list of my favorite music (and maybe some other stuff) of 2017, but if you know me at all, you should be able to guess what my favorite album and song were.
Over at Cover Me, as promised, I delivered a Five Good Covers piece about The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” but the Full Album treatment of Brian Eno’s Before And After Science has run into a key problem–there are two songs that don’t appear to have been covered. I’m huddling with my editors to figure out how to proceed. In addition, Cover Me posted its top cover and tribute albums and songs (plus some honorable mentions) of 2017, and I contributed a few blurbs.
I was a bit more prolific over at Star Maker Machine. For the Train theme, I wrote about Robbie Robertson’s “Somewhere Down The Crazy River,” and looked to a different definition of the word for a piece about Phil Ochs’ “Talking Vietnam,” considered by many to have been the first song to protest that war. Our next theme, as we approached Thanksgiving, was All The Fixings, and I discussed Golden Smog’s “Pecan Pie,” and The Cranberries’ “Linger,” as well as my personal feelings about pecan pie and cranberry sauce.
For the traditional post-Thanksgiving Leftovers theme, in which we have the opportunity to go back and write something for an earlier theme, I discussed The Plimsouls’ power-pop classic, “A Million Miles Away,” which would have fit into the Large Numbers/Million theme. December prompted The End theme, and I wrote about Roxy Music’s “Both Ends Burning,” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” Both of those bands–which are quite different–have a few songs that I really, really like, and many that don’t do anything for me. And the holiday theme, Seasons, only prompted me to write once, about Simon & Garfunkel’s uptempo, but bleak, “Hazy Shade of Winter.”
For the New Year, I compiled SMM’s top posts of 2017, and wrote an In Memoriam post focusing on a diverse group of guitarists who had died in 2017, Tommy Allsup, Allan Holdsworth, Ray Phiri, Vincent Nguini, John Abercrombie and Phil Miller, plus bass guitarist John Wetton.
“Brand New Year,” by The Bottle Rockets, is our featured song. I could have gone with U2’s “New Year’s Day,” a song that I do love, or some other similarly titled song, but you don’t hear The Bottle Rockets that much, and it’s too bad. And to be fair, if you have never heard the band before, this song isn’t their best. Their best stuff is very, very good.
The Bottle Rockets were fronted by Brian Henneman, a Missouri singer and guitarist whose bands were playing what later became called alt-country at about the same time as another band led by his friends Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. But Henneman’s band broke up when that other band, Uncle Tupelo, got its record deal. Henneman became a roadie and additional musician for Uncle Tupelo before forming The Bottle Rockets. (The last song that Uncle Tupelo ever played live, in 1994, was a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps,” featuring, among others, the members of The Bottle Rockets, featuring Henneman on lead vocals.)
The band’s second album, 1995’s The Brooklyn Side, is one of the best of the genre, rocking and twangy and fun. It got them a major label deal, with Atlantic Records (sadly, a decade after I briefly worked there), but their next album didn’t sell, Atlantic dropped them, and they retreated to an indie label, Doolittle Records. 1999’s Brand New Year, their first album of new material for Doolittle, was less country and more rock, but did nothing to increase their audience. (By comparison, Wilco released Summerteeth in 1999, and the prior year, Son Volt had released Wide Swing Tremolo, both excellent albums on major labels).
The Bottle Rockets continue to record strong albums, and tour. I’ve never seen them, but they are definitely on the list of bands that I’d like to see live.