The Bottle Rockets | Zoysia (Bloodshot)

Zoysia sounds ineffably confident, even cocksure in places, as though crafted by a quartet that hadn’t yet sniffed the abattoir stench of the music biz.

 

 

Zoysia, the splendid new CD from the Bottle Rockets, takes its title from the lush grass carpeting many lawns in and around St. Louis, the band’s stamping grounds. In context, that’s apt for diverse reasons.

First and foremost, the hardiness of that grass (the botanical analogue of a crew cut) reflects that of the band, which nowadays comprises singer/guitarist Brian Henneman, guitarist John Horton, drummer Mark Ortmann, and bassist Keith Voegele. Without going into tedious detail, since they formed almost a decade and a half ago, the Bottle Rockets have suffered perhaps more than their share of label lunacies, personnel changes, and other upheavals. Yet on its 11 tracks, Zoysia sounds ineffably confident, even cocksure in places, as though crafted by a quartet that hadn’t yet sniffed the abattoir stench of the music biz. To be sure, after beginning with promise—“If we all were blind,” Henneman drawls in the chorus, “I wonder what we’d see”—“Blind” degenerates into a slap at Kelly Clarkson. (Fish in a barrel, Mr. Henneman.) Otherwise, though, Zoysia boasts soulful female backing vocals on “I Quit,” artful mid-tempo mournfulness on the confessional “Happy Anniversary,” and hand-clapping jubilation on the love song “Mountain to Climb,” which, at live performances, should set audiences afire.

The Bloodshot disc not only closes but also fittingly concludes with the title cut. In this uneasy era of “red” and “blue” states, the Bottle Rockets look elsewhere in the spectrum on “Zoysia,” finding that the strength of the republic remains evergreen, that its roots still thrive not in the ashen landscapes mapped so lovingly by media commentators but in the loam of something as quotidian as neighborliness, that the U.S. remains great in its uncanny ability to balance large animosities with small amities. Certain listeners, of course, will instantly dismiss the song and its sentiment as romantic piffle—but that’s to be expected, yes?


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