On Stage: Bottle Rockets keep close to their roots

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Bottle Rockets

Music fans who head to the Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) on June 5 will be in for a double treat – The Bottle Rockets and Sarah Borges. It is a show featuring two acts of headlining status…acts that also interact well with each other.

Last year, Borges came to Philadelphia for a show at MilkBoy Philadelphia as the opening act for The Bottle Rockets – a band with a lot of history.

Formed nearly 30 years ago, the Bottle Rockets helped forge a now-popular subgenre—small-town, middle-class, Midwest American roots rock—part right-to-the-gut poetry, part rock ‘n’ roll, all truth. The band was unceremoniously birthed in 1992 and they very quickly became a forbearer for the new style alongside Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, Old 97’s, Blue Mountain and Whiskeytown.

When The Bottle Rockets hit the scene in the mid ’90s, the world wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. With their punk-rock pedigrees and arena-rock energy, their tougher-than-Springsteen storytelling and their romantic hearts sewn bare on their denim sleeves, the pride of Festus, Missouri confounded musical generalities as they laid waste to clubs across the Midwest and then, soon enough, the nation.

In 2018, The Bottle Rockets – Brian Henneman (guitar, vocals), Mark Ortmann (drums), John Horton (guitar), Keith Voegele (bass, vocals) —  released “Bit Logic,” their fourth album for Bloodshot Records and their 13th LP overall.

“Bit Logic” is a different sort of album for the St. Louis natives and shows them at their most self-aware, self-challenging, and socially alert. Recorded in St. Louis at Sawhorse Studios, engineered by Mario Viele and produced by longtime studio collaborator Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (The Del-Lords, Steve Earle), The Bottle Rockets’ new album has them looking at their unique stylistic blend through a different lens. While one of the group’s earmarks is constructing blue-collar anthems, “Bit Logic” has the quartet focusing outside themselves — observing how change and adaptation affects the bigger picture.

Now, The Bottle Rockets are touring all around the East and South on their “Bit Logic Tour 2019” – and they’re putting icing on the cake with the addition of Borges as the opener.

On last year’s dates with The Bottle Rockets, the Boston-based rocker was hit. She went over big-time with The Bottle Rockets’ fans.

Sarah Borges

When Borges straps on her guitar and starts to sing, she rocks out. There is country, punk, blues and rock in her musical DNA, but it is the rock element that stands out the most.

Borges, who arrived on the national music scene in 2005 as the lead singer of the Broken Singles, has gone from frontwoman to solo act, to frontwoman again. Back in October, Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles released their sixth album – “Love’s Middle Name” — on Blue Corn Music.

The last time she played town, she was backed by her own band. This time, she will be backed by the drummer and bass player from Bottle Rockets — with possible other special guests.

Borges’ CV includes an Americana Music Awards nomination, multiple Boston Music Awards, and song credits on TV shows Sons of Anarchy and The Night Shift. The veteran musician, who is a resident of Taunton, Massachusetts, recorded “Love’s Middle Name” with Ambel in Brooklyn.

Ambel is a highly respected performer and producer whose credits include The Bottle Rockets and Steve Earle & the Dukes. He was the founding guitarist for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

“We recorded it last year with Eric on guitar, Binky and two different drummers,” said Borges, during a recent interview. “And, I sang and played guitar. We made the album in multiple sessions at Cowboy Technical Service, which is Eric’s studio in Brooklyn. I’d make demos and then we’d go into the studio.

“There are two covers on the album and the rest are all originals. I wrote all the songs not long before we went to record them. I definitely work better when there is a deadline for writing. Usually, I come up with the music first. I try to think about what kind of songs that we didn’t do yet.

“Then, after the music is done, I’ll add the lyrics later. With the lyrics, I’m just telling a story about something that comes up in my head. There are definitely some creepy songs on this album – and some murder songs.”

One common denominator in Borges’ songs – they all rock hard.

“In my shows now, I’m playing a lot more songs from ‘Love’s Middle Name,’” said Borges. “We need to do the full album cycle until we go back in the studio to record again.”

Borges’ old songs and new songs are all characterized by musical intensity.

“We love playing good, fast rock songs,” said Borges, who graduated from Emerson College with a degree in radio. “We keep evolving but we also keep playing some of the older songs. With so many songs I’ve recorded, it’s hard putting together a set list.”

Video link for Sarah Borges – https://youtu.be/1cL0p9sC3tA.

Video link for The Bottle Rockets — https://youtu.be/JwXkGJo9m2g.

The show at Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $

Michael Fracasso

Music fans who are fortunate enough to be going to Michael Fracasso’s show on June 5 at the Dawson Street Pub (133 Dawson Street, Philadelphia, www.dawsonstreetpub.com) should know that Fracasso’s mini-tour came about because of the good fortune relating to several events in the past.

On June 14, Fracasso will release Big Top (Lucky Hound Music), the new-old album produced by fellow Austinite Charlie Sexton. Recorded in 1999 by Fracasso, Sexton and the late bassist George Reiff, “Big Top” begs the question — how could such an album be left to collect dust for all these years? 

“George Reiff, who was a dear friend and a great bass player, passed away a few years ago,” said Fracasso, during a phone interview last week. “He played with me on ‘Big Top’ along with Charlie.”

“Big Top” was revived in 2017 when it was played at the memorial for Reiff, which Sexton, who is Bob Dylan’s guitarist, directed. Lucky Hound A&R rep Michael Ramos was stunned by the music. Ramos is the third part of the trio that will be performing at the Dawson Street Pub show.

“I was doing a rehearsal for the show with Charlie and we were playing a few songs from ‘Big Top.’ They caught the attention of Michael Ramos, who was an A&R guy from Lucky Hound.

“Michael took it upon himself to get Charlie and me to meet the people from the record label. Michael is also a very good keyboard player.”

“Big Top” was captured following the sessions that yielded “World in a Drop of Water,” an album made in 1998 that was Fracasso and Sexton’s first collaboration. Sexton, like most of the Austin scene, had followed Fracasso’s thoughtful output since the early 1990s.

According to Fracasso, “I called Charlie, and he showed up at [the storied Austin club] the Hole in the Wall, and that was the beginning of our relationship. He’s been such a great supporter of my music. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by his generosity and spirit.”

Early on in the studio, their chemistry just clicked. Despite its artistic success, however, “World in a Drop of Water” was more bust than breakout. So, “Big Top” went straight into the vaults, and Fracasso, who was the first member of his Italian family born in the United States, began to focus on his rising career as a chef. 

Following years on the New York City folk scene, Fracasso moved to Austin in 1990 and made an auspicious debut with “Love & Trust,” which featured a duet with Lucinda Williams. He has released several He has released several successful albums since including “Saint Monday,” which was one of the two Fracasso records featuring a duet with Patty Griffin, and “Here Come the Savages.”

“When we went back to revive ‘Big Top,’ we didn’t touch it at all as far as mixing and mastering,” said Fracasso, who grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. “The only thing different is that we made some small changes in the sequencing. It never felt like anything was dated. When I put it on, my girlfriend was blown away. Charlie called me from the road and said – how did we do this?”

Fracasso is now a proud father with a thriving cooking career that dovetails comfortably with his music — including innovative combined cooking/singing performances. In 2013, he released a book, “Artist in the Kitchen: A Brief Autobiography in Food,” which details his lifelong passion for music and food.

“I’ve released 10 albums and ‘Here Come the Savages’ in 2016 was the latest,” said Fracasso. “I have another record written and ready to be recorded.

“This tour is just a week of shows with Charlie and then he has to go back with Dylan. We’re playing seven or eight songs from ‘Big Top.’ I play songs from my whole catalog –back to ‘Love and Trust.”

According to Fracasso, “Every album of mine encompasses some period in my life, and I really love that about them. But I don’t mind playing any of my songs from any period.”

Video link for Michael Fracasso – https://youtu.be/T-X5KBQLvLM.

The show at the Dawson Street Pub will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket are $18 and $25.

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