Despite the unmistakable Merle Haggard twang in some of their best music, the Bottle Rockets' name rarely came up during the overexcited predictions of an Americana boom earlier this year. But as the band's brilliant third album, 24 Hours a Day (Atlantic), confirms, they're the most vital practitioners of country-inflected rock working today. The band's tough, lean mix of boogie rock, hard country, and Neil Young stompin' sounds far more impressive live than it does on paper: singer-guitarist Brian Henneman brandishes his simple hooks like truncheons. But it's the good humor that really sets this quartet apart from the pack of earnest pretenders--it extends from the lyrics to the music itself. (For instance, the ferocious title track, whose narrator gleefully announces, "I quit my job / No time to work / Gonna spend 24 hours a day / Loving you," features a one-note staccato piano riff a la the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog.") Whether boozing away the boredom in "Slo Toms" ("It ain't much of nothing / But it sure is something") or meditating on relationships he wasn't ready to have ("When I Was Dumb"), Henneman can distill the limited choices and ordinary pleasures of small-town life into a potent, sometimes poignant plainspeak. Sunday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by John Halpern.