Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bottle Rockets - Part 2- LEAN FORWARD album review

The bottle rockets released their most recent album, Lean Forward (Bloodshot), on August 11th, 2009. This album was scheduled to be recorded in December of 2007, but due to general burn out and road weary band members was put off until the summer of 2008 in the midst of the Bottle Rockets 15th Anniversary Tour. In 2008 the band played 15 headlining shows for the entire year. They opened up two contests on their message board. The first contest you could enter to win 'Bottle Rockets For Life', every album that has ever been released or ever will be released and two tickets to any show they headline forever. The second contest was a slightly used Creston custom made electric guitar. Brand new except that Brian used it at every show during 2008.

Why do I mention these fun facts? Because it's a key to the success of the album. Brian has mentioned that at the end of 2007 the band was weary from playing more shows to less people. Something he called playing to 'dwindling returns.' But after allowing his message boarders to write the set list to every one of the 15th anniversary shows, playing to sold out shows across America, and connecting more viscerally with their fans, the Bottle Rockets hit the studio with Eric 'Roscoe' Ambel producing to record one of their strongest efforts to date. And with albums such as The Brooklyn Side, 24 Hours A Day, and Zoysia that is saying quite a bit.

Lean Forward starts off with the song, 'The Long Way.' This song sums up the attitude and plight of the band. With a chorus that says in part, "The long way isn't the wrong way, and a wrong turn isn't the end." the band sums up their attitude of perseverance in the odds of the changing music business and rough economic times. With all the inherent obstacles of being a band trying to breakthrough in these rough times, The Bottle Rockets seem to finally have found the right path.

'Hard Times' is the perfect song for these times. With it's funky rhythmic intro and classic guitar hook, 'Hard Times' is easily one of my favorite songs on this disc. It's a song lamenting the rough time many of us are facing now, but it holds at it's core an optimism that we can all make it through. With lines like, "I'm not broke down, I'm just out of gas" Brian uses car imagery to really *ahem* drive home the point.

The car imagery and analogy continues in 'Nothing But A Driver', a song about driving other people's cars for a living, and 'The Kid Next Door' which features the lines: 'Sitting there all alone, Parked out back like his tombstone, A black '02 Camaro, With a silent kick ass stereo." 'The Kid Next Door' is a song about war that really gets the listener thinking but it does it in such a way that does not come of as overtly political or preachy. Brian took long time collaborator Scott Taylor's lyric and molded it into a moving tribute to the kids that fight for our country.

Keith Voegele makes an impact with back to back songs 'Done It All Before' and 'Open Your Eyes.' The former song is musically an upbeat pop rock gem, but lyrically it seems to be an ode to the morning after a night of drink. It's ultimately hopeful, but it has a touch of 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' disguised as a bouncy little tune. The later song is a love song couched in failure. Lyrically it resonates of past mistakes in lines such as, 'Opened up my eyes to fear of rejection, Through the error of trials I learned my lesson' before giving credit in the chorus to the unnamed 'you' for learning those lessons. 'Open My Eyes' is a slower, sadder song musically but a much more upbeat song lyrically than 'Done It All Before.' Keith has ability to fuse together contrasting emotions to make something greater as a whole and the album is stronger for the diversity he's added to the songwriting.

After listening to the album for a couple of months and seeing the band live twice in the past two weeks I've come to appreciate how this album works as a whole. Upon first listening I had a few favorites, 'Hard Times' 'Shame On Me' and 'Give Me Room' all were immediate likes. But as time has passed and I've settled into listening I've discovered that there aren't many weak tracks. The band has taken the concept of distance, be it literally in songs like 'Get On The Bus' or figuratively as in 'Solitaire', and made a conceptually consistent album that is musically and lyrically diverse yet still easily seen as a whole. This album bears repeat listening. There are lots of nuggets both musically and lyrically that really come out after it seeps into your mind. And best of all, these tracks work beautifully live. Do yourself a favorite and catch The Bottle Rockets live when they are near you.

In closing I'm including a message from Brian as he posted on The Bottle Rockets Message Board:

Here's who did what.
The way we credit things, lyric writer comes first, music writer second (Except for "Shame On Me" where Keith came up with the chorus, and "Give Me Room" where John came up with the guitar solo, and chord progression beneath it...).
One writer means he did it all.

"The Long Way" Mark Ortmann/Brian Henneman
"Shame On Me" Brian Henneman/Keith Voegele
"Nothin' But A Driver" Brian Henneman
"Hard Times" Brian Henneman
"Done It All" Keith Voegele
"Open Your Eyes" Keith Voegele
"Kid Next Door" Scott Taylor/Brian Henneman
"Way It Used To Be" Robert Parr/Brian Henneman
"Get On The Bus" Brian Henneman
"Slip Away" Mark Ortmann/Brian Henneman
"Solitaire" Joe Flood/Brian Henneman
"Give Me Room" Joe Flood/Brian Henneman/John Horton

There's always cross-pollenation with the music, for instance, I don't come up with Mark's drum parts, but, the credit goes to whoever "establishes" what the song is.
If you just heard Mark's drum parts, you probably wouldn't recognize the song.
If you can play what you came up with on acoustic guitar, by yourself, and have it recognized as "the song", you get the music credit.
My guitar solo is not considered a co-write on Keith's music for "Open Your Eyes", but, John's contribution to "Give Me Room" was too big to go uncredited, that solo is my favorite part of the song, and I sure as HELL wouldn't have thought of those chords.
It a "curve" grading system, and it pretty darn accurately represents who was responsible for the big picture of what made the song "what it is"...

The Bottle Rockets - Part 1- Live at Mojo's 23-Oct-2009

The Bottle rockets are: , Mark Ortmann- Drums and percussion, Brian Henneman-Guitar and Vocals, Keith Voegele- Bass and Vocals, and John Horton- Guitar

After dinner out for our anniversary, my wife and I went to see the Bottle Rockets on October 23, 2009, our 10th anniversary, at Mojo’s in Columbia, Missouri.

We arrive and talk with Keith, the bassist, for a few minutes. Then we meet up with Kirbie, a fellow bottle rocket's message boarder, and his friend and have a nice conversation. The opener ends up being a local band called Jaktar. I liked the music but every other song ended up sounding pretty similar. It was pretty loud for acoustic instruments as well. The main singer and guitarist has a pretty good voice for that old timey music. And the mando/singer did a pretty good job as well. I was impressed that a group of guys could get together and play some cool music you don't normally hear and make it work. I would like to see them mix up the show a bit, but I'm probably being picky at this point.

Eventually the band shows up and starts playing. There was a pretty rocking attitude going on. The room is fairly full but not packed at all. There was plenty of elbow room and it was nice not being sweated upon by people. The band has sold out Mojo’s the past few times they’ve played so this was a change of pace for them. The first several songs hit pretty hard and then came the song 'Happy Anniversary.' Brian announced that it was our anniversary and I gave Phoebe an anniversary ring. It wasn't the exact one she picked out, but I planned ahead and gave it to her in the dark recesses of a rock show... kept the possibility for disappointment to a minimum. Apparently she likes it so it worked out okay. Brian mentioned that the message of the song doesn't really fit, but we both really like that song so it works for us. After 10 years of marriage and over 14 years together I think we can handle the bad *ahem* mojo that might come from the message in that song.

After I get a nice anniversary kiss we pay attention to the show and this was one of those nights I could just close my eyes and get lost in the music. I really enjoyed it and probably couldn't tell you a hand full of songs from memory but it was awesome. One of those totally in the moment shows for me. I did take time to notice that I look at fret-boards quite a bit. Brian's trashpicker , John's flying V when he is facing our direction and Keith's bass quite a bit. I guess I'm trying to figure stuff out. I don't know. Watching Mark drum is really cool as well. He hits lots of little fills and bits and makes it all look effortless. It sounds like he's a permanent resident of "the groove." He’s just always right on top of things. On several songs the ending was drawn out a bit more than usual, which was cool as I noticed a little bit of the interaction in the band. It was easy to tell the band had fun on stage.

The band played several songs from their new album, LEAN FORWARD. ‘Shame On Me,’ a song in which the singer is taking responsibility for his mistakes even as he admits he’ll do them again. ‘Solitaire’ a song about the loneliness of a failing relationship. ‘Hard Times, ‘ a song appropriate to the rough economic times but with a light at the end of the tunnel look at the future. And ‘The Long Way’ which seems to sum up the journey the band has undertaken. Around for over sixteen years, the band has had shots of the big time but always seems to be stuck right in the middle. This is a song about perseverance and the optimism that comes with a new album and a new enthusiasm for making music. This band does it for the love of music and it shows in how they play.

After a brief break the band hit the stage for the encore and after a few strums from Brian they launched into "American Girl." Apparently this is the first time the band has played that particular song but it sounded well rehearsed. I have to give major credit to John for hitting all of those cool parts that just MAKE that song guitar-wise. Seriously good interplay with band.

The nice gal next to us waved herself a rebel flag with the word "redneck" across the front and the band launched into 'Wave that Flag' just for her. I found it quite ironic myself, but it was great to hear the song live again. In case you aren't familiar with the song 'Wave That Flag' it is pretty much and indictment of the mindless use of that symbol which is now associated with slavery. We could go on and on about the real meaning of the flag and if/how/when it changed, but this song gets to the heart of the matter from the view point that many Americans hold. It's summed up nicely in the line, "If somebody owned your ass, how would you feel?"

Afterward we got our picture taken with the band and with Janet, Brian's wife. We spoke a few minutes with the band and it got cold so we vamoosed so the band could leave for their lengthy drive to their hotel. It being homecoming here in Mizzou country (GO TIGERS), I'm sure they had quite a ways to go for lodging.

I would write more about the show itself, about the great interplay of guitars wielded by John Horton and Brian Henneman. How Keith Voegele and Mark Ortmann lock into a groove on every single song and build a foundation that lets the songs climb to new heights. I could even write about some tender moments such as during 'Smoking 100's Alone' and 'Welfare Music.' But the only way to truly "get" the Bottle Rockets is to go see them live. This band shows up. Do yourself a favor and support the nicest guys in the music business and go see a show.

Boss BR Recorders - A helpful site

Boss Digital Multitrack BR Recorders Forum | BR-600, BR-900, BR-1200, BR-1600 and Micro BR

64Guitars has a wealth of knowledge and is moderating a forum for the use of BR recorders built by Roland. If you have a BR recorder you owe it to yourself to tap into this community.

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When I was first starting to use my recorder the folks that are now on this site were invaluable. This is a very useful tool. Visit the Boss BR Community.

Monday, October 19, 2009


So I've been talking songwriting and music appreciation with some on-line songwriting and appreciating friends. I've been having these discussions mainly on the forums at the 50 Songs in 90 Days and on the Bottle Rockets Message Board and I have a few ideas that might be interesting to them and hopefully others like you. I figured I'd better introduce myself and maybe let you in on what you can expect.

My name is T.C. Elliott and I've been writing songs for years as a hobby. I'm a fan of the guitar and blues and classic rock and some traditional music and all sorts of music in all sorts of genres. My favorite bands are The Holy Modal Rounders and The Bottle Rockets and Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young and the list goes on.

In 2008 I discovered the Timed Songwriting Challenge (TiSC) called FAWM. February Album Writing Month, in which you challenge yourself to write 14 songs in 28 days. I succeeded in doing this but most of the songs weren't very good. One of the first songs I wrote was called "It's Hard To Write A Song on Monday" and I couldn't (and still haven't) figured out the chords so I just sang it with some hand claps. (If I figure out how, I'll post a snippet of it here.) And really, it is. I mean Monday is just a bad day to write songs. The worst of all the days in my opinion. So instead of writing and recording music I'll spend Mondays blogging instead.

Since that time I've learned to record a bit better with some decent results. And my songwriting is entirely more consistent than before. I had some gems, but now I have a good chance of getting something productive from most any songwriting session. I've also collaborated with several songwriters, mostly on-line, with some really cool results. At one time that was nearly impossible for me to contemplate much less accomplish.

And on this journey of learning to write songs and record music and listen to other songwriters of all levels I've discovered that music really does get the blood moving. It can bring a bear of a man to tears and it can bring a wisp of a girl to roar. It can bring joy and cause pain. Music has in it all the thoughts and dreams of the human race and the ability to communicate it in new and inspiring ways. It has in it the ability to make each of us wince. Music is so powerful that it's hard to describe it in a few short sentences. I hope I can share my glimpse into the power and the joy I feel for and with and about music. I hope you can feel it as well.