Before Ear Bliss, there was Compact Capsules. The column ran in these papers from 1992 to late 2005. Two of the early reviews in Compact Capsules history were albums by the Bottle Rockets and Southern Culture on the Skids. For the Festus, Missouri-based Bottle Rockets, it was the foursome’s self-titled debut for an indie label called ESD Records out of Minneapolis. The band’s twangy rockers were full of punch and the song subject matter a blue-collar blend of down-and-out types and trailer park trash.
It fit the early era of “alt country” just right. Southern Culture on the Skids, or SCOTS for short, was a South-of-the-Mason Dixon entity. It’s album “Ditch Diggin’” released in 1994 for a small New Hampshire-based indie label called Safe House Records was chock full of reverb-drenched twang attached to songs knee-deep in the Southern white trash ethos. It was an instant cult classic. Each of these albums are back in the limelight and frankly speaking, it makes this scribe feel pretty old to cover them a second time around (SCOTS’ “Ditch Diggin’” is actually a newly recorded version of the original album), but they are well are worth spreading the word about a second time around. Let’s take a look.
“Bottle Rockets and
The Brooklyn Side”
“The Bottle Rockets are American roots rock to a ‘T,’ specializing in two-to-three-minute slices of Americana. Quick moving tunes and lyrics as straightforward as a can of Bud. That’s The Bottle Rockets.” So wrote this scribe back in 1993 in a review of the self-titled debut album from The Bottle Rockets. That quote was plastered all over the band’s sophomore effort a year later, “The Brooklyn Side,” and still rings true. In the alt country slave trading of the mid-1990s where bands of the ilk (Old 97s, Whiskeytown, etc) were as hot as a cinder in a Texas BBQ pit, The Brooklyn Side would see release on indie ESD Records in 1994 and then get picked up by major label Atlantic Records subsidiary TAG Records for reissue the next year. It would make the Bottle Rockets a national entity, albeit for a brief time. Like most of the alt types signed during that time, success was fleeting and the BRs would record only one album for the label before retreating back to the indie ranks in 1998. To the rescue comes venerable indie Bloodshot Records which has been home to the Bottle Rockets since 2002. Kudos to Chicago-based record label for going through the paces to grab hold of those first two pace-setting, out-of-print albums from the band and give them the deluxe reissue treatment they deserve. Remastered under the supervision of original producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, the two-CD set features each of those original albums in its entirety, as well as a 40-page booklet containing reminiscences from the likes of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Patterson Hood, to name a few. On its self-titled debut, the BRs came out like gangbusters with guitar-bashing, shades-of-Rust-Never-Sleeps nuggets like “Gas Girl” and “Trailer.” There was also the quiet side with the centerpiece being the stroke-of-alt-country-beauty “Kersoene.” The band demonstrated as much crunch as twang as sensitivity across the album’s 13 songs. The follow-up album “The Brooklyn Side” deviated little mixing big twang n’ crunch rockers with some stripped-down classics. Heck, it even yielded the band a college radio hit with the tune “Radar Gun.” Listening to these records some 20 years later, it’s easy to say that the music and songs have aged incredibly well retaining all the loose-limbed glory and heartland heart and soul of those defining days. The inclusion of 19 previously unreleased tracks consisting of live cuts, both BR demos and a handful made by front man Brian Henneman with Uncle Tupelo for whom he worked as a roadie, and predecessor band cuts are only icing on the cake. This two-fer is nothing short of essential, so don’t miss out the second time around! Visit www.bloodshotrecords.com .
Mark your calendar as The Bottle Rockets appear at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014, with Marshall Crenshaw.
Southern Culture on the Skids
“Dig This, Vol. 2”
Chapel Hill, North Carolina trio Southern Culture on the Skids has been making records since the mid-1980s. Originally released in 1994 and long out of print, “Ditch Diggin’” was the album that broke the band out and got them their own major label deal with Geffen Records. “Ditch Diggin’” was patented SCOTS, songs about the white trash lifestyle set to a Southern surfabilly and soul backdrop with leader and guitarist Rick Miller stroking the strings to magnificently greasy proportions. On “Dig This Vol. 2,” the band returns to that classic album re-recording 13 of the original 15 tracks. As Miller tells it, “We have a drainage ditch that runs by the Kudzu Ranch (his recording studio) that had been left unattended for so long it was not doing its job. I decided to dig a new ditch or at least upgrade the old ditch. I was dragging tree limbs, shoveling the muck, looking for turtles and watching for snakes and humming the riff to “Ditch Digging.” That is when it dawned on me that it had been almost 20 years since we recorded the album of the same name, and all those songs could use an upgrade to 2013 specs just like this ditch I am sweating over right now, but instead of a shovel – I’d use a guitar.” It is nothing but a positive overhaul. Visit www.scots.com .
Thanksgiving weekend in any local area is typically one to hook up with pals and hear live music. Friday at The Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) is a night of hip-hop tag-team fun featuring The League and Benny Styles. The Knickerbocker Café (35 Railroad Ave., Westerly) has a full plate serving up the blues on Friday night with Shiny Lapel Trio and reggae on Saturday night with the Bob Marley tribute band Hope Road delivering the rhythms. At Dan’s Place in West Greenwich (880 Victory Highway), Not for Nuthin’ delivers the classic rock sounds on Saturday night starting at 9. Close out your Thanksgiving weekend in blues style at the Narragansett Cafe (25 Narragansett Ave, Jamestown) on Sunday afternoon with Professor Harp. Festivities get going at 4 p.m.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.