Rockets is a collection of unreleased demos, live and rehearsal tracks, and leftovers. It was created as a "renegade CD" to be sold only at gigs and on Daniel Lanois' website. Lanois is a meticulous producer, so the rough and ready -- even raw -- nature of much of this is startling. That said, his leftovers are often more desirable than the choice material of other songwriters. The consistency of the material is the only guiding thread to what's here. And there are no credits; one has to go to the artist's website to get track-by-track information. The spectral, spare pedal steel instrumental "JJ Leaves LA" -- recorded live in Dublin with drummer Brian Blade -- is haunting and bittersweet. On the ragged, distorted whomp of "Sweet Soul Honey," tempos shift and slip, as Lanois is accompanied by Blade (and the sound from his guitar amp bleeds copiously into the drum mikes) and a big bass Indian drum walks the entire proceeding on a razor wire. This could have been an outtake from For the Beauty of Wynona. The title track is an edited live guitar-and-drum wanker jam, but that's OK since Lanois never really does them. The live "Devil's Bed" doesn't replace the studio version; with pedal steel this track takes a countrified approach. The live version of "The Maker" has a subtle three-part harmony, and was recorded at Joshua Tree. It's supposed to evoke or pay tribute to Gram Parsons, but it doesn't really feel that way. The coolest thing here is a read of his "Stormy Sky," which was originally cut for the Lanois-produced Willie Nelson record Teatro and features Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and Lanois in a skittering arrangement that doesn't quite work but is fascinating nonetheless. "Space Kay" is another experiment in guitar/drum studio trickery, but this one works. With a weird, elegiac, hunted sound, it has teeth. Since not that much work went into the packaging or production of Rockets, and it consists of leftovers, it would have been nice if the price reflected that, but for Lanois fans, this is most likely all essential. At the very least it's like a curious, mysterious page read out of context from a diary, and for that reason alone it's worth hearing.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek