It’s that time of year when I look back and think: Man, I dropped a lot of money on music this year. Again. So here’s my Top 10 list of the best roots music of 2013. Feel free to disagree. But keep in mind, these are the one’s that stuck among the albums I heard this year, and I didn’t hear anywhere close to everything. Nobody did.
And with 18 days remaining in the year, something great might slip into the mailbox before it’s over — like today, when Jimmer Podrasky’s “The Would-Be Plans” arrived. Can’t wait to dive into this long-overdue new work by the leader of the long-defunct Rave-Ups. Who knows, I might have to revise this list.
The Bottle Rockets celebrated the reissue of their first two albums plus their 20th anniversary Saturday night in St. Louis and emphasized from the first note that they would not only look back, they would lean forward. So, in a rather audacious move, the hometown band opened with a new song.
“Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)” was enthusiastically received by a full house at the Off Broadway music venue and was balanced nicely by a couple of songs that have never been recorded by the Bottle Rockets, songs that are among way-back demos included as bonus tracks in the reissue package of the band’s first two albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994).
The band, on what frontman Brian Henneman called its “One Foot in the Future, One Foot in the Past” tour, demonstrated again the depth and range of its extraordinary catalogue. The show was one of the best I’ve ever heard the Brox play.
Henneman apparently felt the same way, posting Sunday on Facebook: “Fantastic St. Louis show last night. Maybe my favorite ever.” Later in the day, he wrote: “Saturday, we had a room full of music fans on a cold, snowy night, lovin’ every minute of what we were doin’. We were lovin’ that they were lovin’ it. I guarantee ya we appreciate things like that more than the average music fan’s average rock star does.”
Throughout the show, Henneman kept his between-song chatter, which is never unwelcome, to a minimum, choosing to match musical quality with musical quantity. Bassist Keith Voegele and drummer Mark Ortmann were in tight synch; guitarist John Horton, who joined the band with Voegele about 2006, turned in one of his best nights as a Bottle Rocket; and the interplay between Horton’s and Henneman’s guitars was thrilling.
Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann proved to be clairvoyant five years ago when, on the St. Louis band’s 15th anniversary, he talked about what it takes to survive in music.
“You start dreaming big, wishing you could be the next Aerosmith, and when that doesn’t happen, many bands just collapse,” he said. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, you become a working musician and start appreciating what successes you do have. And if you’re happy with your art, then maybe, somewhere later on, it’ll find some kind of fertile ground.”
“Later on” has arrived. The band’s Chicago-based label, Bloodshot, has reissued its first two long-out-of-print albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994), packaged as a two-disc set with 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet. It may not be Aerosmith-style treatment, but it is pretty special for one of the best and most under-recognized roots-rock bands on the planet.
“People who missed us the first time around are getting a second chance with these reissues,” Ortmann said. “It gets people’s attention that we’re still around, and they’re reassessing the early part of our career.”
Frontman Brian Henneman has been doing more interviews than at any time since Atlantic Records picked up “The Brooklyn Side” from indie East Side Digital in 1994. He’s been talking with outlets ranging from Esquire and Country Music Television to blogs he’s never heard of.
“There’s a long-haul way to do it, and a very, very short-haul way,” he says. “Some of the people who blew up big for the short haul made enough money to live on the rest of their life. It’s good. (But) we got the workin’ man’s attitude toward it.”
In 1994, St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets sang about that “angry fat man on the radio (who) wants to keep his taxes way down low” in “Welfare Music,” one of the band’s finest songs. Almost 20 years later, that radio guy is, if anything, fatter and angrier, and the Bottle Rockets, thankfully, are still a working, blue-collar, roots-rock band.
Chicago’s Bloodshot Records has reissued the band’s first two out-of-print albums, the self-titled “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and its 1994 follow-up, “The Brooklyn Side.”
Fans who were present at the creation and have stuck with the band through 11 albums and its odyssey to Major Label Land and back will be familiar with this music; indeed, more than half of the original CDs’ 27 songs are in the Bottle Rockets’ concert rotation.
For relative newcomers to the band – those who came aboard with “Zoysia” (2006) and the current lineup, or may have discovered the Brox in recent years on its tours with power pop legend Marshall Crenshaw – these reissues will be an eye-opener.
But both groups will be thrilled by the package, which combines each album on a separate disc along with a total of 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet full of essays and testimonials from critics and peers. Steve Earle, for example, says that when he first heard “Radar Gun” on “The Brooklyn Side,” “at least for that moment, I believed that there was hope for the future of rock and roll.”