The Bottle Rockets,Grayson Capps and the Stumpknockers
7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Ave., Louisville. $12. (502) 636-0405. www.phoenixhill.com.
In their best songs, the Bottle Rockets summon a sense of dark nostalgia, often in remote rural settings.
Such is the makeup of Way It Used To Be, one of the highlights from the veteran Festus, Mo., rockers' recent album, Lean Forward. The title alone spells trouble as the story unfolds off a domestic split and a resilience to — or complete lack of acceptance of — the resulting change that must come with it. It's a bit of a head-game song, too, as isolation sets in with a growing hint of paranoia.
"The things that bother me are the things no one can see," Bottle Rockets singer, co-guitarist and chief songsmith Brian Henneman sings over a typically lean whiplash of '70s-style guitar riffs and crisp percussive hooks.
Even more sobering is Kid Next Door, a remembrance of a football- playing, hip-hop-loving neighborhood youth, liked and celebrated by the community, who goes off to war but never returns ("I watched him grow, I watched him go; now he ain't coming home no more"). All of that is then weighed against the ultimate question posed by war, especially to rural communities that send so many soldiers into conflicts far away: Did such a death have any purposeful effect on the battle's outcome? ("Did it change the bottom line? We keep on living while we keep on dying.")
Tunes like that are big payoffs for the Bottle Rockets (Henneman, longtime drummer Mark Ortmann, guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele). The rest of their music is just as rural in scope, although with a few exceptions —the merry mix of mandolin and fiddle on the blue collar but green-savvy Get on the Bus is a rare example — the songs steer clear of what is conventionally viewed as country. The album's, and indeed the band's, overall mood is quite cheery — faithful, even.
On the album-opening The Long Way, co-written by Ortmann and Henneman, road travels through the wide-open West —no doubt inspired by the band's mammoth touring schedules — yield an unexpected affirmation. "The long way isn't the wrong way, and a wrong turn isn't the end," Henneman sings. "If it's understood, maybe something good is coming at you 'round the bend."
And for a reflection of the celebratory, elemental rock 'n' roll charm for which the Bottle Rockets is perhaps best known, check out the riotous Bo Diddley drive that propels Nothin' but a Driver.
Not doubt having Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, who produced the breakthrough albums The Brooklyn Side and 24 Hours a Day for the Bottle Rockets in the '90s, back in the producer's chair helps give Lean Forward such urgency. But Henneman and the Bottle Rockets have been on a roll of late. Their 2006 album, Zoysia, was one of the band's strongest efforts. Lean Forward simply moves on from there with another expert scrapbook of rural Midwestern snapshots.
Some are uplifting. Others carry more pensive memories. All possess a vivid, emotive and very human immediacy. And isn't that what always makes up great rock 'n' roll?
Unfortunately, the Bottle Rockets — veterans of many local shows at Lynagh's Music Club and The Dame — won't be coming back to Lexington any time soon. But Henneman and company will be playing Louisville's Phoenix Hill Tavern with Alabama soul-country rockers Grayson Capps and the Stumpkockers. Hey, the show is on Saturday night. Sounds like a road trip is in order.
Sacred jazz on Saturday night
The term "sacred jazz" might seem foreign to many enthusiasts of swing and bebop. But pioneers Mary Lou Williams and, late in his career, John Coltrane helped discover common roads — albeit in drastically different ways — between spiritualism and jazz. On Saturday, pianist/vocalist Deanna Witkowski, whose music definitely steers closer to the Williams influence but with a versed command of Brazilian music, presents her own vision of sacred jazz at First United Methodist Church, 200 West High Street. Her trio will include bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Scott Latzky. (7 p.m. $10, $8 seniors, $5 students. (859) 233-0545.)
A Colt in horse country
Nastasha's Bistro and Bar, 112 Esplanade, has a killer show Saturday for night owls. Headlining will be The Ravenna Colt, a fine atmospheric alt-country troupe led by former My Morning Jacket guitarist Johnny Quaid. The Ravenna Colt's debut album, Slight Spell, hit stores this week. Opening will be the ultra-fine Chapel Hill indie outfit Roman Candle, whose 2009 album Oh Tall Tree in the Ear was full of wide-eyed, ambience-inclined pop narratives, including One Hundred Thousand Miles and Why Modern Radio Is A-OK. (11 p.m. $6. (859) 259-2754. www.beetnik.com.)
Night of the Hunter
Charlie Hunter, he of the eight-string guitar that augments a conventional six-string model with a pair of bass strings, comes back to the region Thursday. Hunter kicked off 2010 with a new soul/jazz-inspired recording, Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid, that blends his guitar work with percussion and brass. Now credited with playing seven-string guitar — maybe he couldn't pay himself, either — Hunter is touring this winter with a trio that includes drummer Eric Kalb, whose credits include Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and John Scofield; and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, who has worked with Jazz Passengers, Lounge Lizards and Bill Frisell. The trio performs Thursday at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati. (7:30 p.m. $17 in advance, $20 day of show. (513) 731-8000. www.the20thcenturytheatre.com.)