It's been 20 years since alt-country's golden age, and Wilco fans born around that time might be hard pressed to imagine their heroes back then grinding out CCR covers in small bars. But long before the arrival of Nels Cline's sophistication, the sound of early Wilco — and late period Uncle Tupelo — was built around the gutsy guitar heroics of Brian Henneman. For that alone he deserves to be recognized as alt-country's most underrated hero, but when he finally got the chance to prove himself as a singer-songwriter with the Bottle Rockets he added a caustic counterpoint to the typically more earnest work of alt-country's most prominent names.
This reissue of the first two Bottle Rockets albums from '93 and '94 brings back with startling clarity how in tune Henneman was with the times, lyrically foreshadowing the decline of the middle class amid the rise of urban sprawl and taking well-aimed shots at unchecked racism and political correctness, all while leading his band like Warren Zevon fronting Crazy Horse. Placing these two albums back to back shows how the Bottle Rockets cleaned up their act slightly for The Brooklyn Side, best known for the blue collar anthem "1000 Dollar Car," but the process leading up to that is what makes this release mandatory for longtime fans. The band's earliest recordings (when they were known as Chicken Truck) are included, and it's worth the price just to hear their take of "Brand New Year," featuring Henneman's best, most deranged guitar solo. There is also a wealth of great demos, like an early stab at "Indianapolis" made during Uncle Tupelo's final days.
While the Bottle Rockets never quite recaptured the magic of this period, they remain one of America's most underappreciated rock 'n' roll bands. Hopefully, this excellent reissue will remind folks of that, and it wouldn't be a bad thing if Jeff Tweedy happened to be one of them. (Bloodshot)