The Bottle Rockets

Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening with the Bottle Rockets

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Label: Bloodshot

A defunct schoolhouse in St. Louis, MO provided the intimate setting over two nights for the Bottle Rockets to record acoustic versions of songs from the entirety of their near decade long tenure. The Bottle Rockets are known for wittily encapsulating the struggles of the everyman over a raucous hillbilly-garage sound. In taking away the rowdy electric guitars, Not So Loud takes away everything that is fun about the Bottle Rockets. The Bottle Rocket’s songs about commonplace problems sound commonplace themselves on Not So Loud.

Acoustic versions work best when they are used to reveal more plainly a degree of lyrical density and complexity that is not easily grasped in the original version. Unfortunately for the Bottle Rockets, most of their songs have no deeper lyrical meaning to be deciphered. The Bottle Rocket’s songs have always been to the point, whether frontman Brian Henneman is singing about burning down a trailer on “Kerosene” or about how stoked he is to sit on his ass and collect workman’s comp checks on “Lucky Break.” Lyrics such as, “Thousand dollar car it ain’t worth nothin’/ Thousand dollar car it ain’t worth shit,” are meant to be sung drunkenly at the top of one’s lungs at the state fair, not contemplated over coffee at an acoustic concert.

The few cuts on Not So Loud that benefit from the intimate acoustic setting are those where Henneman takes the opportunity beforehand to tell a story behind the song. Before playing “Perfect Far Away,” a touching song about the wonderful experience of seeing Dolly Parton perform, Henneman tells an amusing story about the irritable crowd at the Parton concert. Henneman was anxious to get a good view of Dolly Parton, but the testy audience members behind them kept shouting at him and his friends to sit down. Probably sensing the crowd’s confusion over the disconnect between the concert experiences described in the story and song, Henneman admits that he wrote the song prior to the experience, as he chuckles and says, “I had the intention of feeling that way.” While the acoustic versions themselves don’t add anything to the originals, the Bottle Rockets are able to add meaning to at least a few tracks through storytelling.

The instrumentation varies over the course of Not So Loud, including acoustic rock on “Gravity Fails,” twangy roots banjo on “Rural Route,” and soft strumming with harmonica accompaniment on “Mom & Dad.” Aside from the boisterous banjo solo on “Rural Route,” Not So Loud is largely lacking in any sort of distinctive instrumental detail.

Before launching into “Rural Route,” Henneman laughs as he calls their {Not So Loud} performance “self-indulgent.” At the very least we can commend the Bottle Rockets for self-awareness, as this album was little more than a chance for the band to pick up some unfamiliar instruments. There’s a reason why MTV only grants unplugged specials to artists at the height of their popularity, when the artist has hordes of devoted fans. Sometimes the most enthusiastic followers are the only ones able to find enjoyment in an acoustic project such as Not So Loud.

by Frank Matt

Key Tracks: Smokin’ 100’s Alone

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