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The Bottle Rockets Keep it Real at the Turf Club

The OGs played their entire new album along with a handful of classics.

Last updated on January 5th, 2019 at 12:22 am

Okay, I have a confession.

I kinda wish I was Brian Henneman.

The leader of the Bottle Rockets got his start as a guitar tech for the founders of, Uncle Tupelo. If you don’t know who they are, you might know the bands their two songwriters formed after: Wilco (Jeff Tweedy) and Son Volt (Jay Farrar).

This put Brian in the unique position to be in the heart of the scene as it emerged. As a registered fanboy of the genre, that’s sort of my dream life. Not to mention that he played lead guitar on Wilco’s debut album A.M., is still friends with Tweedy and Farrar, and gets to tour with his band for a living.

His track record as leader of the Bottle Rockets is impressive as well. They’ve released 11 albums since their 1992 debut, including 1995’s certifiable classic The Brooklyn Side. More than simply, they are what Mark Kemp of Rolling Stone correctly called “the torch-bearers for smart southern-style rock.” Although their releases since then haven’t made as much of a splash, the quality of their music hasn’t gone down at all.

Southern rock done right

For their set they played their entire new album, Bit Logic, interspersed with songs from their back catalog. They began with the album-opening title track, an updated Waylon Jennings rocker with humorous, biting social commentary:

Best be looking out the windshield, not the mirror
To figure out the way to go from here
This science ain’t no fiction
It’s the new way of keeping it real

A jaded waitress told me yesterday
Times ain’t what they used to be
It’s all shallow, cell phone, selfie vanity
Well, I tried to fake a way to disagree
Then got interrupted by technology

The entire album combines upbeat, downhome southern rock, impressive lyrical depth, and just the right amount of humor. “Keeping it real” is something of a thesis of the album, as songs about dealing with traffic (“Highway 70”), the joys of simplicity (“Lo-Fi”), and falling out of love (“Saxophone”) show.

It’s a bad time to be an outlaw

The two truest songs were “Bad Time to be an Outlaw” and “Doomsday Letter.” The former bemoans the lack of monetary success when you keep your music true to yourself:

Now that Nashville pop is not my deal
Even though the cash flows real
These days what would Waylon do?
Don’t make much money, sad but true
It’s a bad time to be an outlaw

And the kicker: “Carrie Underwood don’t make country sound/but she can afford it when shit breaks down.” Henneman had fun with the crowd during the call-and-response part of the song, wondering if the “Scandinavian response” would work for it. His verdict? “Reserved Scandinavians my ass!”

I’ll leave it up to Jesus, the odds seem better

The evocative message of “Doomsday Letter” is truly subversive. Henneman is tired of always being told that the world is ending, and he doesn’t mince words to get his message across:

Hey Chicken Little, whatcha got cookin’?
The sky is falling, the sky is falling
You really want to prove it
But I ain’t looking

But you keep calling, you keep calling
I ain’t gonna read no doomsday letter
I’ll leave it up to Jesus, the odds seem better
Whatever I can do to keep my chin up is a damn good thing

Hey Nostradamus, I ain’t listening
To the bile you’re spewing, the bile you’re spewing
There’s way more left in the world that’s glistening
It’s not all ruin, it’s not all ruin

To have a positive message that is not Pollyannaish is difficult, but Henneman succeeds with one of his all-time best songs.

The classics, and a classic country cover

The setlist had no shortage of classic Bottle Rockets material, including a generous helping of tracks from The Brooklyn Side (“Radar Gun,” “$1000 Car,” “Welfare Music”), a couple tracks from their 2015 album Southern Broadway Athletic Club (“Dog,” “Ship it to Frisco”), and the title track from Henneman’s first EP that Tweedy and Farrar from Uncle Tupelo helped him on (“Indianapolis”). I love that last one so much that I wrote a song that is, ahem, a bit influenced by it.

The new songs sounded just as fresh as the older ones. My one quibble with the setlist is that I wish they had played my favorite two songs from Southern Broadway, “Something Good” (“we had something good/but good was never good enough for you”) and “Shape of a Wheel” (“I’m a wheel no matter what shape I’m in”). The band usually ends with a cover, and they certainly didn’t disappoint with a ferocious, extended take on Waylon Jennings’ classic “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way.”

Milwaukee Man

Milwaukee’s Hugh Masterson opened the night with his fun, intelligent Americana. He told a lot of funny stories throughout his set, the best being about the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson sleeping on his recliner and ordering a bunch of Makers Mark from the bar he was working at. He’s been living in Nashville, and it sort of makes sense, as his songs combine a downhome, midwestern quality with Nashville catchiness. He’s something like Ryan Adams without being a total douche bag, or a contemporary Jimmie Rodgers/John Prine. His huge voice reverberated throughout the Turf Club.

The most important currency

Carrie Underwood may be able to afford it when shit breaks down – in a funny coincidence, she was hosting the CMAs as the show began – but she certainly isn’t keeping it real. In the end, that’s the most important currency, as the Bottle Rockets and Hugh Masterson prove.

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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