The Bottle Rockets – The Brooklyn Side

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I gave this album a cursory once-over at a listening station at Tower Records in New York, probably around the time of its re-release in 1995, and I gave it a pass. Turns out, that’s not a great way to make a purchasing decision – not unless you’re going to stand there for a good chunk of time. So about 15 years later, I eventually bought the damn thing and guess what? It’s really fucking good! I’ve listened to a few other Bottle Rockets albums since then and they have their merits, but this is the one to own. I also saw them live at the Hideout and I am happy to report there were multiple Rickenbackers on the stage.

What I Think of This Album

This album came out during the alt-country phenomenon of the mid-’90s, but it’s not exactly alt and it’s not really country; I would say this is more hard roots music, informed by the wit and heart of folk and indie. However you pigeonhole it, it’s a stellar record. The guitars are often loud (betraying some Neil Young influence), the lyrics are smart, and the entire affair sounds as genuine as a failing family farm. The top-notch songwriting is the product of various minds.

Lead singer and guitarist Brian Henneman (former roadie for Uncle Tupelo) has a hand in most, sometimes collaborating with schoolteacher friend, and non-band member, Scott Taylor. But guitarist Tom Parr gets two credits (including the rousing “Take Me to the Bank”), his brother and also a non-band member Robert Parr provides one (bizarro car song “Radar Gun”), bassist Tom Ray co-wrote one (regret-tinged “I Wanna to Come Home”), and drummer Mark Ortmann co-wrote another.

As befits a 1990s band from Festus, Missouri, the songs are about the overlooked lives of the underpaid rural working class, told with compassion, humor, and righteous indignation. Thus, “Welfare Music” immediately plunges you into the plight of a poor single mother against a backdrop of dobro, fiddle, and mandolin, and takes aim at mean-spirited right-wing radio talk-show hosts and heartless politicians. The tough guitars of “Gravity Fails” belie the vulnerability behind the words of devotion and need. Henneman gets randy and romantic on “I’ll Be Comin’ Around,” a cheeky updating of “Back Door Man.” The aggressive “Radar Gun” is a neat inversion of the typical car song, sung from the point of view of a traffic cop giddy with the power to pull over speeders (“I’m makin’ money and I’m havin’ fun”). “Sunday Sports” is notable in that it details the escapist actions of a frustrated blue collar everyman, and gives the album its title; the melody isn’t up to snuff, but it’s the most Crazy Horse song on here.

No song has more cleverly set forth the plight of the working poor than “1000 Dollar Car” (“A thousand dollar car ain’t gonna roll / ‘Til you throw at least another thousand in the hole / Sink your money in it, and there you are / The owner of a two thousand dollar thousand dollar car”) and cogently notes that “if a thousand dollar car was truly worth a damn / Then why would anybody ever spend ten grand?”

Some might find it a bit maudlin, but I warn you not to listen to “Young Lovers In Town” if you are lonely. On the other hand, you should listen to the shit-kicking “Take Me to the Bank” often, in which Tom Parr shows Henneman (and Taylor) that he too can be clever:  “Kiss me/Kiss me at the bank/Kiss me/ Endorse me at the bank.” The final highlight is the mournful “I Wanna Come Home,” proving you don’t always want what you think you want. The only misstep on this album is the spiteful “Idiot’s Revenge,” a misguided rant – purposely played in the most down-home manner with an exaggerated hick accent – about alt/indie kids, which suggests they hypocritically crow about their Amnesty International donation and then say the n-word in private (except the song does not stop at “n-word”); my dudes, no one “likes Dinosaur Jr. but . . . can’t tell you why.” That just doesn’t happen.

Henneman also collaborated with Wilco.

The Best Thing About This Album

Fuck. I don’t know. Probably “Gravity Fails,” but “I’ll Be Comin’ Around” and “1000 Dollar Car” are very close contenders.

Release Date

1994 (original); 1995 (re-release)

The Cover Art

I love it. The font is beautiful, and the billiards ball is gorgeous, as is the large black area. The only demerit is that the album title relates to bowling and not billiards, but I guess I can let that go.

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