MUSIC: Bottle Rockets

Bottle Rockets
24 Hours a Day
Atlantic Records

Though vilified by rock historians as musically flabby and culturally conservative, Southern boogie bands have always had insurgent axes to grind. To wit, Missouri's Bottle Rockets are Skynyrd-influenced post-punk populists who shun big-city notions of style, class, and correctness in favor of rock substance and a sort of informed elitism in reverse. Leader Brian Henneman grooves on both Twain and twang, coming off like a practicing hick and a proud Southern intellectual. In fact, he relishes both roles as if there was no inherent conflict between them.

On 24 Hours a Day, Henneman is dead on the money, speaking from the perspective of someone who's well aware that loss is a part of life. The record's blues-drenched title track may rock like rote heavy metal, but on "Perfect Far Away," a song about not wanting to get close to a woman for fear of finding out she's more beautiful from a distance, Henneman sings about being alone and pathetic in the knowing voice of a man who has been there so often it's almost funny. And like any decently self-effacing wit, he grows profound when he's the butt of his own jokes--as in "Indianapolis," where he yearns for the road, the woman he hasn't called in 10 days, and someone to put something other than John Cougar on the jukebox.

Over the years, the other Rockets have grown increasingly empathetic to Henneman's fragile sentiments, and here they continue to grow without dulling their ragged edge or stifling the songwriter's empathy for his characters. "Happy that she kicked him out but sad that he's gone" is how Henneman consoles his female protagonist on "Smokin' 100s Alone," a gorgeous update of the band's own "Welfare Music." "Turn for the Worse" borrows its cadence from Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and its strength from the Rockets' collective integrity. Despite the grim lyrics, these guys never turn sour. If bad times come, they've got each other to turn to, and that's all they're gonna need.

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