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Friday, April 12, 2024

Bottle Rockets explode on tribute to Sahm









There's a spectrum to so-called tribute albums, and it's definitely bottom heavy. Mediocre cover curios like the I Am Sam Soundtrack are the rule, only occasionally broken by real successes like Wilco and Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue series or, to a lesser extent, last year's Hank Williams' Timeless. Are Hank Williams songs in need of updating? Not that I know of, and while no cover comes close to surpassing the Williams' original, Timeless features a handful of great performances, showcasing the likes of Ryan Adams, Beck and Hank III at the top of their game. 




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So, are Doug Sahm's songs in need of updating? Not really, so The Bottle Rockets don't expend any energy that could otherwise be applied to rocking on noodly reinterpretation. Sahm, a Texas-born guitarist who formed and fronted half a dozen bands throughout four decades, remains a relative unknown to the country-rock scene, seemed to be doomed to forever be overshadowed by the likes of Gram Parsons and (undeservedly) John Fogerty.  




Well, not if The Bottle Rockets have anything to say about it. 




\She's About a Mover"" and ""Mendocino"" are the only two Sahm songs likely to be recognized by the casual classic rock radio listener and coincidentally, they're the two weakest tracks on the album. Despite the obvious reverence the Rockets have for Sahm's entire catalogue, vocalist Brian Henneman seems exasperated with the prospect of redefining anyone's expectations and just sorta gives up: The former sounds like any cover-band version you're likely to hear, and the latter is simple mimicry. 




But on the other hand, there's ""Floataway,"" a joyous testament to the transportative power of Texas rock, and ""Lawd, I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City,"" a twangy ramble down the streets of San Francisco in the '60s. Both songs click perfectly for the Rockets' whiskey-splashed-Telecaster sound and stand as two of their best recordings to date. Add to that ""Nitty Gritty,"" fueled by Robert Kearn's pointed organ and Mark Ortmann's maraca stylings, and you've got yourself a reason to buy this album, padre. Psychadelic country is not a genre that's aged well overall, and Songs of Sahm isn't for everyone anymore than, say, early '80s Dylan, but this is the kind of album that rewards well-placed curiosity.  




Oftentimes, the best thing about tribute albums is the addition of great songs to a great band's live repertoire, which will no doubt prove to be the case tonight at 9 p.m. when The Bottle Rockets show The Annex who's boss. $10 is a small price to pay to witness tribute of this caliber. 

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