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Bottle Rockets: Chicken soup for the musical soul

Bottle Rockets
Tuan Lee

If you’re wondering what the Bottle Rockets mean to me, let’s just say that I would describe the Missouri roots rock band as my musical equivalent of comfort food. You can go away and not put one of their albums on for a while, but as soon as you do, it’s like they were always there, and what follows is a tendency to run through the whole catalog again and again while wondering why you hadn’t done so sooner.

So when the band re-released their self-titled debut and their second album, The Brooklyn Side, late last year on its 20th anniversary, what better excuse was there to play them both on a continuous loop? And I have been. Thankfully, this is a band whose material from two decades ago has aged well, and according to drummer and co-founder Mark Ortmann, that’s something he and his bandmates are proud of.

“On one level, the technical aspect of it, the albums don’t sound dated; at least I don’t think they do,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of digital effects that were of the time, and that was intentional too. I also think the subject material is still current. So the combination of those two things makes the albums still relevant to today, I suppose.”

With a good ol’ fashioned mix of what is described today as everything from rock to alt-country to Americana, along with plenty of social commentary and storytelling, the Bottle Rockets (Ortmann, Keith Voegele, Brian Henneman, John Horton) could certainly be seen as the Godfathers of a genre that is getting more and more attention these days, but as Ortmann points out, that was never the goal, even if he is appreciative of such comments and of the fact that a new generation of fans are showing when they’re on tour.

“I guess one of the rewards of being around long enough is that when the cycle comes around again and you’re still standing, the next generation can pick up on you,” said Ortmann, whose band checks into the Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore Thursday night. “We never felt like pioneers; we were just doing what came natural to us, so it wasn’t like we were trying to do anything or special at the time. We were also building on the generation before us, because in the 80s you had Rockpile and The Long Ryders, and Jason and The Scorchers. And the generation before that you had Commander Cody and CCR all doing versions of the same thing. Right now, it does seem very popular, with Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. They’re building off this old-time string band sort of thing. And in a way, roots music is attached to that, and there are fans who are picking us up retroactively, and that does feel kind of odd, but we appreciate it because we’re looking to expand our audience.”

If you’re one of those folks new to the Bottle Rockets experience, picking up the re-released albums is a great place to start, not just for the basic tracks on each, but for the varied array of bonus and live songs included. For Ortmann, putting the reissues together was a labor of love.

“It was fun going through that,” he said. “It was a walk down memory lane, as the cliché goes. But it wasn’t very hard finding the bonus tracks because I’ve been saving a ton of it. And the few things that we didn’t have, the previous label manager, Steve Daly, he had a bunch of stuff too. So between what I had and what he had, we had more than enough, and it’s a fun variety of stuff on there, from acoustic demos and outtakes to unreleased songs and live tracks and cover songs. It runs the gamut.”

And it sounds like it was recorded yesterday. So does it feel like 20 years?

“No it doesn’t,” laughs Ortmann. “What’s that old saying, the days feel long but the years feel short? It’s gone by pretty quick.”

The Bottle Rockets play the Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore on Thursday, January 30. For tickets, click here

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