Record Review: Bottle Rockets' 'Lean Forward'

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Friday, September 4, 2009


"Lean Forward"

Kindred spirits: Drive-By Truckers, James McMurtry, the Hold Steady, Steve Earle

Show: Saturday at Iota. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. 703-522-8340.

If you've been wondering when someone would articulate how the recession is being experienced in blue-collar Middle America, the answer has arrived in the form of the Bottle Rockets' terrific new album, "Lean Forward." Brian Henneman, the band's primary singer-songwriter, begins the song "Hard Times" by toting up all his overdue bills. Then, over a muscular, catchy guitar riff, he seems to shrug and declares, "I'd pay it if I had it; I will eventually." He's not intimidated by hard times because he has been through them before. "I ain't broke down," he sings. "I'm just out of gas."

It's not just that the album's lyrics capture the experience of losing a neighbor to the Iraq war ("Kid Next Door"), of working as a chauffeur for suits ("Nothin' but a Driver") or of making empty promises to the wife ("Shame on Me"), it's that the meat-and-potatoes rock captures the sound of Midwesterners hunkered down in the cellar as the tornado roars by. This Missouri quartet made one of the best rock albums of the '90s with producer Eric Ambel on 1994's "The Brooklyn Side." They've reunited with Ambel to make a singalong, bash-it-out classic for another decade.

-- Geoffrey Himes

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