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The Bottle Rockets – “Lean Forward” (Bloodshot Records)

Atlanta, GA — I’ve never liked comparisons. If a reviewer must mention how closely one band’s sound resembles another, that only reduces the band to mere cover-band status. Just my opinion, but hey, that’s what I’m here for.

That said, The Bottle Rockets have been compared thusly: Wilco are to the Beatles as The Bottle Rockets are to the Rolling Stones. Actually, that’s not a bad comparison. So forget what I said earlier. Anyone with a brain in their head or rhythm in their soul would kill to have The Bottle Rockets play at their backyard BBQ.

I will, however, compare this band to their namesake fireworks: both are fun, explosive, and can burn you with their awesomeness. Unlike the pyrotechnic toys, there’s not a single dud on this album.

Lean Forward starts with a bang (get it?) on “The Long Way,” championing the road less traveled.

BR music is best enjoyed at full volume with either the top down or the windows open wide. The Bo Diddley-inspired “Nothing But A Driver” (what’d I say about comparisons?) chugs along with that long-revered and unmistakable beat while extolling the joys of picking up and delivering, reminding me of Mr. Young’s “Sedan Delivery.”

“Hard Times” is pure funk straight out of the ’70s — fitting, since I recall hard times back then as well. “Hard times, that’s nothin’, hard times pass. I ain’t outta broke down, I’m just outta gas. Hard times will not do me in.” Now that’s gritty optimism. The regrettably necessary “Kid Next Door”, though borderline cliche, forces us to look at the tragic reality of war when it hits close to home — right next door.

“Get On The Bus” is a humorous inventory of the oddballs encountered on public transportation, as well as a call to environmentalism. Also, dig the bluegrass romp near the end. The chord changes on “Slip Away” take us back to simpler times, and includes a decidedly Beatles ending — another comparison. Am I a hypocrite, or what? “Open Your Eyes” is a darn fine love song, pure and simple, straight from the heart.

Throughout Lean Forward, you feel like the band is right by your side, smiling, an arm slung around your shoulder, letting you know it’s all gonna work out just fine. The Bottle Rockets have always had an aura of optimism around them, as evidenced by such prior classics a “Mendocino” and “1,000 Dollar Car.” Despite the odds stacked against their songs’ narrators, the sun always shines. You gotta love that.

Behind Brian Henneman’s smoky vocals, this is how a mature and experienced band sounds: full of confidence and wisdom, tossing out sage advice to listeners, letting us know it’s okay to have fun while being thoughtful and intelligent. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun! Boom!

Simply put, this is one of the best albums of the year from one of the best bands ever. Pick up a copy of Lean Forward and enjoy.

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