It's been over two decades since the Bottle Rockets vaulted into the wider consciousness with 1994's "The Brooklyn Side," typified by the heartbreaking Appalachian roots folk swing of "Welfare Music" and the scorching Crazy Horse pop of "Gravity Fails" (in an alternate universe where Nils Lofgren replaced Danny Whitten). Since then, frontman/primary songwriter Brian Henneman hasn't been afraid to mix things up (a brilliant tribute to Doug Sahm, the mature and powerful "Zoysia," the live acoustically reimagined catalog revisit of the beautifully nuanced "Not So Loud") or to take a break when necessary.
In spite of a succession of label and personnel shifts (except for original drummer Mark Ortmann), Henneman's sonic vision for the band and his populist everyman lyrical perspective have remained intact.
And that's the astonishing thing about "South Broadway Athletic Club," The Bottle Rockets first album of new material since 2009's "Lean Forward." The album is unmistakably a BRox album, powered by Henneman's sweetly raw vocals and jangly guitar ministrations and Ortmann's rock steady pulse. But it also benefits greatly from the 10-year stability of the current line-up, which includes the muscular versatility of guitarist John Horton and the pummeling passion of bassist Keith Voegele.
With longtime producer Eric Ambel's crystalline-with-a-pinch-of-grit touch, "South Broadway Athletic Club" hits for The Bottle Rockets' brilliant cycle, from the realistic love anthem "Big Lotsa Love" to the bluesy shimmer of "Ship It on the Frisco" to the full bore Midwestern Crazy Horse howl of "Building Chryslers" and "I Don't Wanna Know" to the joyful Tom Petty rock swing of "Big Fat Nuthin'."
The secret to the success of "South Broadway Athletic Club" is that there is no secret at all; The Bottle Rockets have been hiding in plain sight for the past 20 years, and they sound as vital and engaged and excited about making music as they did when they roared out of St. Louis in the early '90s, and that is something worth celebrating.