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After taking over two years off and losing a member, one could only wonder what the future had in store for the Bottle Rockets, whose new album, Songs of Sahm, a tribute to late Texas-based singer/songwriter Doug Sahm, had given them a new breath of fresh air.
After Brian Henneman wrapped up a set of solo dates, it was clear the he had shaken his rust off and the band was ready to go. Bassist Robert Kearns has been on a tour of duty through the Austin music scene, which kept him going strong and drummer Mark Ortmann looked just as strong as ever.
Opening their set with the Doug Sahm cover, Mendocino, the Bottle Rockets instantly gave people a reason to dance, drink and sing along with the music. Kearns looping bass lines got the groove started from the beginning and made the years of absence disappear from the mind.
The beginning of the set rolled forward with a laid back groove with “Get Down River” and “Smokin’ 100s Alone.” These songs allowed everyone to slowly get their footing and gave the band the chance to get on the same page.
As the night moved on, Henneman’s solos got faster and tighter, Ortmann had a bounce in his drumming and Kearns began singing some leads. The addition of Kearns on vocals added to the flavor of the set. His vocals are distinctly different than Henneman’s, which breaks the monotony of hearing the same vocals on all tracks.
Classic Bottle Rockets tunes were plentiful as “1000 Dollar Car,” “Welfare Music,” and the tale of a poor family coming to their death in a fiery hell, “Kerosene.” These songs of hardships and tales of everyday life for the average working person are what appeals to most and gives a sense of honesty to the band’s music, which is lacking from most music you hear today.
Doug Sahm covers were plentiful in the set. “Crossroads” was definitely a highlight as Henneman called for the audience to sing “But you can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.” Hoots and hollers were plentiful as the inebriated crowd felt the groove in the songs.
Sahm was not the only person the Bottle Rockets covered on the night, opening their first encore with a cover of ZZ Top’s “Hell Raisers and Beer Drinkers” They kept the night rolling on, playing a nearly three-hour set, which was capped off by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River.”
Those who were able to last through the entire set were given quite a few treats as this band laid it all out there. A night of honest, hardworking rock n’ roll definitely is something most music fans today would welcome if they had access. The Bottle Rockets are back on the road, so no more excuses, make it out to the shows.