The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year

The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year

If the recent wave of "insurgent country" seemed difficult to define when it first emerged in the early '90s, it's especially nebulous now. Not only has an increasingly diverse group of artists found its way under the alt-country umbrella, but some of the genre's signature acts—Wilco and Old 97's spring immediately to mind—have moved in increasingly pop-oriented directions. In the shadow of experiments like Wilco's Summerteeth, straight-up country-rock bands like The Bottle Rockets run the risk of looking unambitious. No one, after all, will drop Brian Wilson's name in conjunction with a group more aligned with bar-rock than studio tinkering. Such commitment has its rewards, however: Bottle Rockets may not be the only band doing what it does, but no one does it better, and Brand New Year is its most solid album yet. Packed with instantly memorable melodies, Brand New Year finds the group honing its trademark combination of guitar-driven rock and lyrics that are clever without being cloying. "Nancy Sinatra," a mash note to the Chairman Of The Board's most attractive offspring, opens an album that also takes on the topic of debased blues music ("White Boy Blues") and builds metaphors around dead house pets ("Dead Dog Memories") and trucks ("Love Like A Truck"). From start to finish, it works remarkably well. No one will accuse The Bottle Rockets of boldly blazing through unexplored musical territory, but anyone accusing the band of failing to make kick-ass country-rock albums is dead wrong.

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