Songs of Sahm (Bloodshot)

The Bottle Rockets 

Songs of Sahm (Bloodshot)

Doug Sahm was the Texas music scene's Man of a Thousand Faces. From his days as "Little Doug Sahm," the six-year-old steel guitarist; to his stint with bogus British Invasion hitmakers the Sir Douglas Quintet; to his years as a psychedelicized, hippie-haired redneck; to his final days with conjunto party band the Texas Tornadoes, Sahm was a soulful exponent of roots-rock generally, and country-rock specifically, for almost half a century. If any alt.country forebear deserves a solid tribute, it's Sir Doug.

Sahm's fans should whoop and holler for Songs of Sahm. But what's doubly impressive about the album is what it's done for the Bottle Rockets. For the past decade, this Festus, Missouri, outfit has earned a reputation as a world-class twangy bar band. Yet after a trio of impressive albums, peaking with 24 Hours a Day in 1997, the Rockets fizzled. First they were bounced from their contract with Atlantic, and then they released, on their own, the all-too-aptly titled Leftovers and the been-there-done-that bluesy joke-rock of the not-at-all aptly titled Brand New Year.

Tackling the Sahm catalogue seems to have rejuvenated the group. Finding plenty of good songs, of course, wasn't an issue this time out, and the band's pounding, free-for-all sonics are ideally suited to a groovy guitar bruiser like the opening "Floataway." Similarly, the Rockets' bouncy take on "She's About a Mover" and the breezy honky-tonk shuffle the group gives "Be Real" sound like a band rediscovering its roots with a swelling heart and big goofy grin. Even more interesting is how Sahm's melodies often force frontman Brian Henneman out of his sing-songy comfort zone. His simmering reading of "At the Crossroads" can't touch Sahm's emotionally flailing original, but it sure has enough soul, as the song says, to live in Texas.

The more the band tries on Sahm's spaced-out side, the less successful things get, but mostly the Sahm/Bottlerockets pairing smokes as you'd hope it would. The Bottle Rockets are back, Henneman declares at one point, and we want to thank Doug Sahm for all the beautiful vibrations. That about sums it up.

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