James McMurtry & Bottle Rockets
AUSTIN, Texas -- James McMurtry's recent studio albums, 2005's Childish Things and 2008's Just Us Kids, earned him formidable accolades. The Village Voice called him "a poet of the people." Stephen King, writing in Entertainment Weekly, pronounced him "the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation." Yet a lot of current McMurtry converts were introduced through the 2004 release Live in Aught-Three. Live albums aren't typically greeted with rave reviews, but McMurtry's rockin' treatments of songs like "Choctaw Bingo" and "Out Here in the Middle" in concert made an uncanny translation to record. The Austin Chronicle proclaimed, "This is no-frills, freak-flag rock. Turn it up!" PopMatters called it "a snapshot of where McMurtry is now, [marking him] as a legitimate inheritor of the Texas songwriting tradition." Now, on October 13, 2009, Lightning Rod Records will release Live in Europe, a document of McMurtry's first European tour, on which he was joined by keyboardist Ian McLagan and fellow Texas songwriting legend Jon Dee Graham. The set will be available as a CD with a bonus DVD, or as a deluxe vinyl LP package with a CD and DVD insert. In early 2009, James McMurtry and his trio traveled overseas to play their first European tour. The guys played for enthusiastic crowds in Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Scotland and Belgium. Joining the band on keyboards for the tour was the legendary Ian McLagan (who also played on McMurtry's latest studio album, Just Us Kids). The best recordings from the Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Geislingen, Germany concerts were combined to create Live in Europe. The album includes a bonus DVD featuring performances from the Amsterdam show. This marks the first time fans will be able to purchase video footage of McMurtry live in concert. The deluxe vinyl version includes inserted copies of the CD and DVD. Fellow Austin-based songwriter Jon Dee Graham opened the shows and joins the band on a version of his tune "Laredo" on the bonus DVD. The son of acclaimed author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment), James grew up on a steady diet of Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff records. His first album, released in 1989, was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill. In 2004, McMurtry released the universally lauded Live in Aught-Three on Compadre Records. 2005's Childish Things garnered some of the highest critical praise of McMurtry's career and spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Americana Music Radio Chart in 2005 and 2006. In September 2006, Childish Things and "We Can't Make It Here" won the Americana Music Awards for album and song of the year, respectively. McMurtry received more Americana Music Award nominations for 2008's Just Us Kids. The album marked his highest Billboard 200 chart position in more than 19 years. The Washington Post noted McMurtry's live prowess: "Much attention is paid to James McMurtry's lyrics, and rightfully so: He creates a novel's worth of emotion and experience in four minutes of blisteringly stark couplets. What gets overlooked, however, is that he's an accomplished rock guitar player. At a sold-out Birchmere, the Austin-based artist was joined by drummer Daren Hess and bassist Ronnie Johnson in a set that demonstrated the raw power of wince-inducing imagery propelled by electric guitar. It was serious stuff, imparted by a singularly serious band."
So, roll over Kate Smith this "God Bless America (pat mAcdonald Must Die)" bears no resemblance to the ubiquitous Irving Berlin chest-thumper; it's a scorched-earth cataloging of the old-boys' club glad-handing, cronyism and "belly up to the trough" feeding-frenzy of corporate and state war profiteers.
In a country where interstates don't take you to new places, but to the same places, where everywhere you go you've already been or you've just left, The Bottle Rockets' new album absolutely nails a sound and a vibe with a palpable sense of place. Lean Forward is suffused with the determination and resilience of their distinctly midwestern roots; theirs is a celebration of pragmatism and tempered optimism, not the delusions and exhortations of glassy eyed zealotsthey aren't going to fall for that. Oh, it's a flat out, smoking rock record, too.
Lean Forward continues the Rockets' creative resurgence ignited by 2006's Zoysia. Reunited with producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (who ran the knobs on the Bottle Rockets' seminal albums The Brooklyn Side and 24 Hours A Day), the Bottle Rockets do what no other band does better look into the hearts and minds and faces of the dying small towns in America and crafts populist anthems with the sympathetic eye of Woody Guthrie and sonic stomp of Crazy Horse. They are songs that demand the windows be rolled down and the volume turned up. And with the hooks, you'll wonder how they make such problems sound so good
Lean Forward is stacked with a sharp lyricism and gritty fatalism that looks off the front porch for inspiration, and has the locked down groove of a band on top of its game. "The Long Way" looks on the bright side of the path not intentionally taken and works into a joyous song-ending jam. Songs like "Done It All Before" and "Get on the Bus" shine with an irresistible buoyancy, as does "Shame on Me" which gets to the meat of the relationship matter that, despite our best intentions, we're all gonna screw up. "Hard Times" whips up a ZZ Top-inflected boogie with effortless mastery and a dual guitar attack that'll put some much-needed flare back in your jeans.
On "Kid Next Door," the lyrics bypass protest in favor of simple commentary on a war coming home, making it a far more powerful song no matter where one stands on the issue. It's a stone cold classic and handled with the deftness and conviction that speaks to the Rockets' sober-minded realism. To see that they've still got scruffy punk moxie to spare, look no further than "The Way It Used To Be" and the channeling of Bo Diddley via the Stooges on "Nothing but a Driver."
With their 15th anniversary now in the rear view mirror, the Bottle Rockets show no signs of letting up. Lean Forward is an album that celebrates the forces of erosion not earthquakes, of the marathon not the sprint. Honed in their towns and on their back roads, it is distinctly the Bottle Rockets. Rather than be confining, this identity broadens the appeal and strength of their music far from their backyards into our own. Their specificity speaks universally and the message is a simple one: Lean forward, man, because it beats falling back.
High Noon Saloon
701A. E. Washington Ave.
Madison, WI 53703
|Kid Friendly: No|
|Dog Friendly: No|
|Wheelchair Accessible: No|