McMurtry meets the Bottle Rockets

from Illinois Times on

For Sunday, March 27, Sean Burns, along with colorful cohorts Bill Wheelhouse of WUIS and Todd Egizi of E & F Distributors, landed a big one, hooking eminent singer-songwriter James McMurtry with his rocking trio the Heartless Bastards and roots-rocking Americana flag bearers the Bottle Rockets and their stalwart leader Brian Henneman for one hoot of a Bedrock 66 Live! series concert at the Hoogland.

Both groups are of a similar vein, sporting intelligent lyrics in rocking songs, as well as acoustic sides that display folk roots and therefore a deep understanding of the wellspring that is the definition of popular music at its core. These bands have progressed in literary and musical directions using brains and brawn for a couple decades and that’s what gets me going. Power pop or classical, punk stuff and classic country, hip hop and free jazz all achieve levels of excellence and without question have integrity and merit, but for me I enjoy hearing lyrics that move me intellectually and emotionally, paired with music I find interesting and exciting.

Our old (literally now) buddy Bob Dylan paved the way for this type of artistic expression in the ’60s, putting poetic and provoking words to blues-based and folk-styled melodies to produce a category of music still undefined by genre, but as moving and important now as then. Dylan’s Midwest, middle-class upbringing surely weighs on his rooted yet imaginative artistic sensibilities. The same concepts seem to drive the subjects of Sunday’s show.

James McMurtry, the son of novelist Larry McMurtry, was born in Fort Worth, raised in Virginia and now resides in Austin, Texas. He resisted the typical Texas music clichés of blues and western swing by sticking to a folk style of lyrical rock. In 1989 John Mellencamp produced McMurtry’s first record, Too Long in the Wasteland, in Indiana, establishing the Texan as an honest-to-goodness Midwest rocker. He continues to be quite popular in the Heartland among middle-aged males of generally liberal thought, and interestingly enough, that’s roughly the main fan base of the Bottle Rockets as well.

Not to say many other types of peoples of all ages and tastes don’t care for the music of these underappreciated artists, but for some reason the attraction of 40-plus-something men to these groups is undeniable. It seems completely understandable with the understanding that the artists and audience are relatively of the same age and enjoy and admit to discussing relevant topics in song and in person. Henneman, from Festus, Mo., speaks directly to and about his neighbors and fellow listeners in song, in fact the Bottle Rockers often get the distinction of being a blue collar, thinking man’s band in reviews and online discussions. One of McMurtry’s most poignant songs, We Can’t Make it Here, often referred to in reviews as a “working class anthem,” deals directly with the difficulties surrounding America’s constant state of war, internationally in nations like Iraq and Afghanistan and internally through economic class warfare involving struggles with corporate combatants such as Wal-Mart.

Keith Voegele, a St. Louis native and current Springfield resident of several years, plays bass and sings with the Bottle Rockets (and also bartends at the Brewhaus, plays occasionally with me and the Moonlight Rhythm Rangers, while being a darn good dad and husband). In January the rocking quartet hit the road as opener and backing band for quirky popster Marshall Crenshaw. The success of those shows led to the concert pairing with the award-winning McMurtry. Voegele reports a live acoustic Bottle Rockets release called Not So Loud! coming this summer on Bloodshot Records with continued moderate touring and recording in the

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