It took the Bottle Rockets three years to come up with a follow-up to 2006's righteous return to form, Zoysia, but it doesn't take long for Lean Forward to demonstrate that Brian Henneman and his bandmates used the time wisely -- if this isn't an out-of-the-park grand slam like Zoysia or The Brooklyn Side, it's a solid home run that confirms the BoRox are still one of America's great unsung rock & roll bands. Plenty of roots rockers have written about their love of fast cars, as Henneman does here on "Nothing But a Driver," but not many have come up with a well-observed slice of life about using public transportation, and "Get on the Bus" is a great example of what the Bottle Rockets do so well, with its lean, wiry melody, the energetic banter between the mandolins and electric guitars, and Henneman's lyrics about the broad cross section of folks brought together on their way home, whether they like it or not. (And the hard boogie of "Nothing But a Driver" surrounds lyrics about a guy who's found a way to satisfy his need for a cool ride by becoming a repo man, hardly the usual gearhead's tale.) Elsewhere, "Solitaire" is an all-too-believable sketch of a marriage gone sour, "Shame on Me" is a spirited tale of a guy who knows changing his ways isn't as easy as he wants others to imagine, and "Kid Next Door" is a powerful story of a good guy who went to war and never came back. Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, who produced much of the Bottle Rockets' best work, returns on Lean Forward, and he gives the sessions a sound that's tough and full-bodied without drowning out the more subtle textures of the songs, and the guitar work by Henneman and John Horton is full of rock & roll crunch without beating the fine details to death. The Bottle Rockets fuse a regular guy's sensibilities and concerns with a streetwise intelligence that's smart without sounding arrogant, and their music is solid, Southern-style meat-and-potatoes rock at its best; it's a formula they've mastered over the years, and Lean Forward shows it's still delivering soul-satisfying results more than a decade and a half on.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming