Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Brian Henneman is grouchy as hell and not going to take it anymore. So, in the singer-songwriter tradition of writing what you know, or in this case feel, the frontman/singer/songwriter/guitarist/founder of Festus, Missouri’s veteran Bottle Rockets put pen to paper and created an album about it.
Sure, there’s a bit of a “get off my lawn” aspect to his dismissal of technology on the opening title track. “This science ain’t no fiction, it’s the new way of keeping it real,” he laments. But Henneman is too crafty and savvy a wordsmith to simply rant without employing the self-effacing sense of humor he’s displayed throughout the band’s 25 years and 12 previous discs of banging out their tough, guitar-driven Americana in every dive bar or opening slot that’ll have ‘em.
The stories on Bit Logic are, like the best Bottle Rockets’ tunes, based around everyday slices of life. From extolling the beauty of a young girl and a nearly flawless old song in the Southern-fried “Human Perfection,” to the twangy tribute for a classic C&W St. Louis area dive bar hangout named “Stovall’s Grove” (“Been there since 1935/ it’s a little ways out but worth the drive … bring some cash ‘cause they’re old school”) to a folksy love letter for Henneman’s songwriting room decorated in “Knotty Pine” (“that room gives me hugs/ it’s better than drugs”), there’s a lived-in effortlessness to Henneman’s lyrics that makes them, and the melodies that accompany them, honest and real.
Perhaps the disc’s centerpiece is “Bad Time To Be An Outlaw,” where Henneman laments, in a spoken-word/near rap, the state of country music where fringe outlaws — which he both idolizes and feels a kinship to — have been dismissed in favor of slicker, prettier, more commercially palatable country. That leaves his band and its peers at a disadvantage since they clearly aren’t going to sell out their raw two guitars, bass and drums rocking to move more units (“My music’s good but my income sucks”), especially at this late stage in their career.
Longtime associate Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s hands-off production captures the vibe in a hometown St. Louis studio where the congenial setting helps the music breathe. Things cool down for the closing acoustic “Silver Ring,” a tender love song and perhaps the band’s prettiest ballad, showing a less crusty, more affectionate side of Henneman. Despite his social frustrations, the guy’s a softy at heart and his veteran band has seldom sounded better.