The Bottle Rockets, "Bit Logic" (Bloodshot Records)
As the world is running down, the Bottle Rockets offer a no-nonsense view of their surroundings through Brian Henneman's sharp songwriting and some rocking country guitar playing by John Horton.
"Bit Logic" is the Missouri band's 13th album since their 1993 self-titled debut — which had backing vocals from Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar — released when the Bottle Rockets were in the midst of the alt-country/Americana explosion.
To say little has changed since then would be an exaggeration because their lineup is different — with the current one intact for well over a decade — and might create an impression of stagnation. Au contraire. Henneman's keen eye for the complications in simple lives only gets sharper and Horton's guitar is ever more thrilling as is the rhythm section of founding member Mark Oatmann (drums) and "new kid" Keith Voegele, on bass since 2005.
"Bad Time to Be an Outlaw" has funky guitars parts coming at you from both speakers, like a roots-rock "Marquee Moon." It adds itself to the long list of songs lamenting the glitz and marketing ploys of the Nashville scene. "My music's good but my income sucks," Henneman sings, a realistic grievance.
"Carrie Underwood don't make country sound/But she can afford it when shit breaks down," he intones later in the song.
"Human Perfection" finds beauty in immediate surroundings, while "Knotty Pine" is a tribute to a songwriting room ("a psychiatrist-treehouse composite"). "Highway 70 Blues" paints the frustration of an Interstate traffic jam and "Lo-Fi" remarks how technological advances sometimes diminish the fidelity of music listening.
"Silver Ring" ends the album on a tender note, as Henneman, whose voice combines Dave Edmunds, Levon Helm and John Prine, bears witness to a most crucial relationship, the one with your true love.
You'll have to find your own solutions, but on "Bit Logic" the Bottle Rockets offer some clues.