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By Daniel Hill
The Bottle Rockets has stood tall on local and national stages over its fifteen-plus-year tenure, but that doesn't mean that Brian Henneman's rootsy combo has stood still. If you were lucky enough to catch the boys as Marshall Crenshaw's backing band earlier this year, you know that the Bottle Rockets is as adept at smart, streamlined pop as it is at working-man Americana. So this acoustic disc shows another facet of a band that's normally more at home when bathed in Telecaster twang. On Not So Loud, the band strips down to acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and upright bass, and this new set-dressing gives a warm and stark frame to Henneman's no-bullshit songs.
This collection was recorded over two nights in April 2007 at the now-shuttered Lucas School House, so its appearance now is only a little puzzling (then again, this band is no stranger to delayed release dates). But with the benefit of hindsight, we can hear how guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele — then relatively new members to the band — had already settled in. Any BoRox showgoer knows that half of the fun comes through hearing Henneman's stage banter, and a few such moments are preserved here. His tale of struggling to get a good view at Dolly Parton at a long-ago VP Fair gives a new context to "Perfect Far Away," and his "here goes nothing" approach to the live, acoustic recording undercuts the band's spirited and spot-on performance. The deliberate banjo plucks and blustery harmonica lend the classic "1,000 Dollar Car" a darker edge, while the high-speed mandolin strums turn "Rural Route" into a foot-stomping hootenanny. But the acoustic setting works best for Henneman's most naked moments, and that makes the tender acceptance of closing track "Mom & Dad" sting all the more sweetly.
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