THE BOTTLE ROCKETS
Brand New Year
Forever doomed, it seems, to working the cult-following fringes of the alt-country music scene, the Bottle Rockets return to the indie ranks with Brand New Year, a solid, if not spectacular set of songs. The band’s overwhelming appeal has always been in the songwriting skills of Brian Henneman and the shit-kicking country/rock hybrid that underlined the lyrics. With Brand New Year, though, Henneman hides behind a co-writer on seven cuts out of the fourteen, kicking in only three solo songs. Contrast that with the eight solo cuts he wrote for 24 Hours A Day, arguably the Bottle Rockets’ best effort, and you’ll see where Brand New Year falls off. When Henneman is collaborating with folks like ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird or producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, the results are lively, with the writers working well off each other. Other collaborative efforts sound more strained and lifeless.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some good music to be found on Brand New Year – several cuts here will produce smoke and flames from that 5-CD changer of yours. The Baird collaboration, “Nancy Sinatra,” is as funny as it is naughty, “I’ve Been Dying” shows more attitude than any dozen punk songs you’d care to name while the anti-technology cut “Helpless” paints Henneman as a joyful luddite. The powerful “Gotta Get Up” is a minimalist anthem for every blue-collar joe whose life revolves around the forty-hour week. With cranked up amps, tortured guitars and brilliantly simple lyrics, “Gotta Get Up” effectively portrays the working-class grind. However, the flat spots on Brand New Year, especially the inane “The Bar’s On Fire,” detract from the album’s musical high points. The result is something I never thought I’d hear from the Bottle Rockets – an uneven album. Even a mediocre Bottle Rockets’ album is better than almost any other band you’ll hear, though, and Brand New Year’s best cuts still stand head-and-shoulders above 90% of the dreck you’ll find out there. (Doolittle Records)
Pint Size Punks
The idea of taking a bunch of pre-pubescent punks into the studio and cutting them loose with some noisemakers is not a new or novel concept. Hell, Old School were a third of the age of the guys in Drop Zone when they cut their pint-sized tunes a decade and a half or so ago. Unlike their artistic forbears in Old School, tho’, Drop Zone kick out their own jams, and don’t sound too bad doing so. With a refreshing lack of cynicism and the “hipper-than-thou” attitude that infects many older punk posses, Drop Zone have put together an energetic, entertaining collection of songs in Pint Size Punks.
Whether he’s crooning about a “Punk Rock Girl,” slamming the pop charts with “The Music On the Radio Today,” or reflecting fast-food culture with “The B.K. Song,” vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Chris Murphy sounds like the prototypical punk. The band bangs and crashes their way through the fourteen fast and furious songs on Pint Size Punks, playing preciously sloppy, although no more so than a lot of more seasoned outfits. Drop Zone’s mix of hardcore punk, ska and pop roots is deceptively catchy, the songs sticking in your mind. Call it “primal punk” if you will, but Pint Size Punks an engaging album by a band old enough to rock the house but not yet jaded enough to merely mimic the bands they aspire to be. Drop Zone is an unexpected, though not entirely guilty pleasure. The Rev sez “check ‘em out!” (Skate-Key Records)
Long Beach’s Skunk Records, aside from being the folks who first brought us the genius of Bradley Newell and Sublime, have developed a reputation as being the home of SoCal ska-punk. The release of Filibuster’s tuff Deadly Hi-Fi will only serve to reinforce Skunk’s image. A baker’s dozen of high-energy ska and reggae-tinged songs with plenty of lengthy instrumental passages, Deadly Hi-Fi only asks that you move your feet and rock to the beat. With a funky horn section that props up tunes like “Batty Rider” or “Whorse” with wailing riffs, Filibuster is ranking full-stop here with crazy cacophony and reckless rhythms. “Backstreets” is an infectious instrumental that would sound great cruising along the beach with the top down while “Rat Pack” showcases some nifty vocal gymnastics that border, at times, on the style of Jamaican rap called “toasting.” Produced with an unusually deft hand by the legendary Steve Albini, Filibuster’s Deadly Hi-Fi has soul, it has heart, and it has the chops to make you forget about the crappy nine-to-five and shake your groove thing to the island rhythms. Who could ask for anything more? (Skunk Records)
LIVE...With A Little Help From Our Friends
Warren Haynes is a powerful guitarist, a strong stylist with an impressive musical vocabulary and a deep-seated love of the music he’s playing. He’s also criminally underrated, his work with both the Allman Brothers and Govt. Mule often overlooked by the mainstream music press save for a handful of guitar zines. I submit that in Haynes we’ve found a guitar hero for the new millennium, and one has no further to look than the 2-CD set LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends for proof. Nearly two and a half hours of music that encompasses everything from power blues to heavy metal to jazzy improvisation, this New Year’s Eve concert from last year is as good a showcase for Haynes’ talents as these ears have heard. The band’s originals, songs like “Thorazine Shuffle,” “Soulshine” or their theme song, “Mule” tend to be bluesy hard rock numbers with plenty of room for Haynes to stretch out and play.
The bulk of this live set is made up of inspired covers, however, from the monstrous “War Pigs” to a great extended rendition of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” as well as songs from Free, Dave Mason and Humble Pie. A number of talented guests showed up for the party, such as Chuck Leavell, Bernie Worrell, Derek Trucks and Randall Bramblett, whose own solo album went overlooked last year. The first disc of LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends presents a tight, hard-rocking band running through eight songs in a little more than an hour. The second disc hits only four tunes in its hour or so, the tunes brimming with extended jams and improvised licks. So, whether you want to rock the house or mellow out, LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends has something for you…and if you’re unfamiliar with the six-string skills of Warren Haynes, it will do a fine job of curing you of that ignorance as well. (Capricorn Records)
Give them credit for persistence, Jughead’s Revenge having already ridden out a couple of tsunami-force waves of punk popularity with their chops intact. While dozens of bands are fleeing the punk scene, reinventing themselves as rap/metal hybrids, Jughead’s Revenge continues to crank out high-voltage, three-chord riffage. Pearly Gates, their latest, is a reasonably predictable affair, a handful of real barn-burners surrounded by some cool tho’ ultimately forgettable hardcore punk tunes. When Jughead’s Revenge hits the bull’s-eye, however, there’s no posse that can touch them. “Lolita” is a wicked look at an ex-girlfriend, “Kill Security” is a powerful populist anthem and “Rent A Cop Blues” is an insightful look at the skateboarder’s plight. Pearly Gates closes with a respectful cover of the Cars’ hit “Just What I Needed.” The guitars here are scalpel-sharp and the rhythm section plows through the material with all the subtlety of a cruise missile – in short, Pearly Gates is a pure punk album, the kind that parents hate and the moshpit kids love. Crank it up! (Nitro Records)