It's been two and a half years since the Bottle Rockets released Brand New Year (Doolittle), the least consistent album of their decade-long career. Last week they finally issued their fifth LP, Songs of Sahm, on Bloodshot, their fourth record label; you might expect that in all that time they'd have come up with some fresh material, but turns out the guys in the band had more to deal with than writing new music. Not long after the release of Brand New Year, bandleader Brian Henneman's parents died within weeks of each other, and the father of bassist Robert Kearns suffered a nonfatal heart attack. To get their feet wet again after a year off, they dipped into the songbook of Texas legend Doug Sahm, onetime leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados, and came out with 13 covers. I miss the eloquent plainspeak of Henneman's songs, but the match makes sense: like the Bottle Rockets, Sahm paid little heed to genre boundaries, shuffling blue-eyed soul, beery honky-tonk, Tex-Mex, psychedelia, British Invasion pop, and the blues into the game however he saw fit. The Bottle Rockets have the chops and emotional investment to bring his work the zest it deserves; Henneman's throaty wail even resembles Sahm's at times. (Unfortunately the songs Kearns sings suffer by comparison.) I expect the set to include some of the band's own tunes as well. Saturday, March 2, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bob Reuter.