That the Bottle Rockets were ever considered part of the alternative-country movement is somewhat curious; there was never much alternative about them except their choice of facial hair. (Though perhaps if you consider ZZ Top and Skynyrd alternative country and a case could be made for such a categorization the Bottle Rockets could be included.)
But who cares where they fit on paper? When it comes down to it, Festus' Bottle Rockets are a dude-rock band, and they play real-deal dude rock no more, no less. Your tolerance for such music may wax and wane more often it wanes, in this office but at least they're consistent.
Their fourth full-length, Brand New Year (Doolittle/Mercury) has just been released, and if you never liked the Bottle Rockets, this new one isn't going to deliver an epiphany. They haven't added a DJ to the mix; no emcee is gonna break into a rap. Not that any of those accoutrements would change a thing; they'd still be writing about pickup trucks, beer, bad women and the blue-collar life.
They just use their tools guitar, bass, drums, Festus twang and a bunch of clunky rhymes you can see coming from a mile away to play their Southern rock & roll music. Any of these songs could have popped up on any of their records and not seemed out of place, and, as on any of their releases, there are as many bummers as sparklers. For every nice song the best two are "Helpless," Henneman's Wendell Berry-esque celebration of his nontechnological world and "Gotta Get Up," a hardworking jam about working hard there are some embarrassingly mediocre songs, the worst of which, "Let Me Know," sounds like the simplistic achievement of a gooey adolescent. And though you gotta give them credit for their good taste in women we share a passion on "Nancy Sinatra" the end result is a letdown. (Tip to band: Go ahead and let Henneman write all of the songs; he's got more songcraft than the rest of you combined. Tip to Henneman: All these extra songwriters you employ are cutting into your earnings; take the leap, man.)
Will Brand New Year be the breakthrough record many have been expecting since the Bottle Rockets' early days? No, probably not, given that there's really no place on the dial for them. Is it any good? Like all their records, it's just fine, but no revolution. Will it change the way you see the band? Absolutely not. You can find out for yourself when the group celebrates the record's release on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Mississippi Nights.