The Bottle Rockets
Sarah Borges + Eric Ambel
1100 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM
This event is 21 and over
The Bottle Rockets
The Bottle Rockets’ brand of populist, Midwestern, brawny rock ‘n’ roll is a sound so effortless, it’s easy to take their craft for granted; a sound so universal, yet unmistakably THE BOTTLE ROCKETS. They’ve crushed rowdy Friday night crowds, convinced sitting audiences to get on their feet, and pulled weary festival onlookers across muddy fields to the front of the stage. With their 12th album, South Broadway Athletic Club, the quartet gives a master class in capturing the beauty of everyday life, and painting a portrait of ongoing hope.
South Broadway Athletic Club is an album full of new experiences for the band. Although they again worked with longtime producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, The Del-Lords, The Yayhoos) it was the first time the group recorded a full album in their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Working at Sawhorse Studios, it was also the first time they scheduled sessions in batches over several months, allowing the songs - and the whole album - to fully breathe and unfold. The extended songwriting process not only allowed a gestation period for the music, but also created the opportunity for a new musical collaboration with the Nashville hit-songwriting family The Henningsens, resulting in the song “Something Good.” These fresh directions helped focus the band’s creativity and energy throughout the recording sessions, adding further dimension to the album.
Singer/guitarist Brian Henneman meticulously crafts lyric-chapters straight from his well-worn journal. The album’s sharp-as-shit songwriting kicks off with “Monday (Everytime I Turn Around),” and the tough but tender “Big Lotsa Love.” The latter is built on engaging wordplay that takes the listener through the ups and downs of working through the world with someone you care about. In “Dog,” a jangly, Byrds-infused, unaffected but never cloying, tribute (with Henneman’s new weapon of choice: a chimey, 12-string Rickenbacker) to a favorite canine, he sings, “I love my dog, he’s my dog/ If you don’t love my dog, that’s OK/ I don’t want you to, he’s my dog.” The zen-like wisdom transcends merely a song about a pet and, rather, packs the message and life philosophy that, “Sometimes life is just this simple.”
Sonically, The Bottle Rockets still find the quickest two-lane highway into the bloodstream. There are pulses through the rhythm section of Mark Ortmann’s made for FM radio, wall-of-sound drumming and bassist Keith Voegele’s deep and shapely lines. They are Missouri’s answer to Muscle Shoals’ The Swampers – Swiss Army knife players, distinctive and in the pocket. It’s honed further with John Horton’s classic rock guitar snarl on “I Don’t Wanna Know,” a song that could otherwise be a Tom Jones classic about a relationship lie. On the speaker-rattling “Building Chryslers,” Horton and Henneman ignite a crunchy guitar duel that’d fit nicely on the LP shelf between Dinosaur Jr and Thin Lizzy. The song is a compelling character study told only as The Bottle Rockets can.
Shimmering, fresh coats of paint are applied in “Ship It On the Frisco,” a Southern soul-influenced song about childhood train hopping, and “XOYOU,” which showcases the band’s cosmopolitan touches through a Rockpile/Nick Lowe-inflected pop gem mixing in shuffling drums, handclaps and harmonies. Elsewhere, “Big Fat Nuthin’” is an earwormworthy “ode” to exhaustion with a Black Flag “TV Party” vibe.
Throughout their entire career, The Bottle Rockets have managed to stay true to the rabid music heads as well as casual dial-turning everybodies. After 20+ years, they’ve come out on the other side stronger and more energized than ever before, proactively writing their own creative arc. Against the odds, the Bottle Rockets are a true American success story. Consequently, South Broadway Athletic Club is an album as relevant as their formative early work; political by not being political, re-affirming our greatest aspirations by focusing on the tiniest of truths.
Sarah Borges + Eric Ambel
Change is something that takes a little getting used to. If you need proof of this, ask the soulful Sarah Borges. After a long and successful stint with her band, The Broken Singles, 2011 marked the band’s breakup – and Sarah embarking on a solo career. She admits it took some time to adjust. “One of the things I didn’t expect is when you’re on stage and you’re doing a show, there’s certain things you have to do. You have to tune your guitar. You have to take a sip of your drink. It’s just inevitable. I guess I had my band mates fill in that space – whether it be telling jokes or on-stage banter. You can’t have that when it’s just you. That’s a change. You have to be ok with it being quiet for a second. Also, you play out with your bandmates so much – especially when you’ve been together for a long time, and you operate as a unit. You have to dig deep and think about how you’re going to make the show exciting by yourself instead of relying on others.”
However, “digging deep” has never been a problem for the Massachutess native. Whether it be through performances or her writing, Borges has learned to dazzle – and do it well. That ability can be heard all over her 2014 Radio Sweetheart disc, as well as her upcoming follow-up, Good and Dirty, due in early 2016. She attributes that ability to a very eclectic sound, which she comes by naturally, she says.
“I would say that my sound is straight up rock and roll, but it’s the sum total of what my record collection looks like. The new record that I am working on is certainly more Americana than the last record was. It’s also more rock than the last record. I would say that it’s a version of the live shows – a lot of loud guitars and loud singing. You can certainly dance to it.”
Just what was Borges listening to during those formative musical years? “When I started playing in a band, I listened to X and its’ offshoots, like the Knitters and other bands that its members were in. I also listened to a lot of old country from my dad’s record collection, and a lot of classic rock. I grew up in Boston, which in the 1990s was such a hotbed for indie rock. You could go and see all your favorite bands in the clubs every Saturday night. There’s a lot of musicians and bands that came from here, and were so accessible when I started playing. That helped me out a lot in terms of me thinking it was possible to be in a band.”
Though the creative side of her loves to record, Sarah says that it’s being on stage night after night that is truly her greatest passion. “That’s my favorite part of music. Every night is different, and determined by the people in the audience. Sometimes, the crowd is so ready to go, and sometimes you might have to work things a little more. I like to do it night after night, because it’s a living and breathing thing – and it evolves.”
When it comes to creating music, Sarah explains that she feels a little more free these days to let the listener inside her soul. It didn’t used to be that way. “I was so wary of getting too personal in songs, or I would think about things a lot before I wrote. But, I think after a long time of touring and playing, and having lived a little bit and having a child, I realized that the only way you’re going to have a serious connection with people is when you’re honest. Nobody can ever fault you for being that. With the new record, I have just gotten divorced, and I have a child. So, I’m not afraid to lay it out there anymore. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Nobody is going to die,” she says with a laugh.
For Good and Dirty, Borges received some all-star help in the producer’s chair. “I got to work with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel who has such a great track record – Steve Earle, Bottle Rockets, Joan Jett. I had met him through some mutual friends. He’s producing and playing guitar on it.”
To record the disc, Borges ventured outside of her Boston comfort zone. “I went to his studio in New York, and we worked on the songs a little bit. I’m using his guys that he plays with on the record. I’m excited about it, because I feel that it’s the most honest record I’ve made to date. The first single is called ‘Caught By The Rain.”
As the release date of the album beckons, look for Sarah Borges to be in her natural habitat. “We’re going to be on the road a lot. I was on tour with the Broken Singles for about eight years, then I stopped to have my son. The music business has changed so much since then, but one thing that hasn’t changed is people still go out and hear live music. I’m going to continue to do that, because that’s what I know how to do.”
Other songs from Good and Dirty that Sarah is ready to share with her fans include the autobiographical “Tendency To Riot,” of which she says is about “finding yourself at loose ends, and trying to figure out how to go out and have fun.” On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the emotional wallop of “Lucky Us,” which in the writer’s words is “a sad story about a relationship ending and how it wasn’t the greatest relationship to begin with. That’s the country weeper, I guess you could say.” One of the most beautiful cuts from the album is the evocative “All The Things That You’ve Been Missing,” which she describes as “a love song to New York City, which I thought was fitting since that’s where we’re making the record. It’s about looking at the city from across the bridge and wanting to make it big and do your thing, but you just can’t get there, It’s both metaphorical and autobiographical too.”
Telling her story – and being a musical bad ass in the process. That’s Sarah Borges. Take a listen. You’ll be glad you did.