6 String Drag – Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll (ALBUM REVIEW)


6stringalbumNear the close of the 1990’s and at the peak of their success, the gentlemen of 6 String Drag packed up their instruments and called it a day.

Although respectively hailing from various Southeastern locales, the group called Raleigh, North Carolina their home, and for a few years proved to be one of the hottest live acts in the alt-country movement. At the time, I called the Old North State home, and was fortunate enough to see the band rip through sweaty and energetic sets in dingy clubs and beer-soaked halls from Raleigh and Chapel Hill all the way out to Boone and Asheville. There was never a dull moment as they would stomp through muddy R&B inflected numbers, stony country-rock grooves, and sweetly affecting character studies. In addition to headlining their own shows, chances were high that if you ventured out to see a larger national act in town like Son Volt, Lucinda Williams, or Alejandro Escovedo, 6 String Drag would be there to kick the night off. Frontman Kenny Roby swapped songs onstage with Ryan Adams (a Raleigh resident for a short while then) and Steve Earle helmed the production duties for the band’s 1997 classic, High Hat.

Unfortunately, the band has been dormant as we’ve blazed through the first decade and a half of the 21st Century. Family life, solo projects, and side musician gigs have filled the intervening years for the four primary members, with Roby’s album output gaining a fair amount of attention and acclaim. Last year, though, a small buzz began accumulating around the band again. Roby hinted at a possible reunion while out touring his album Memories and Birds, a 6 String Drag Twitter account emerged, and most importantly, the group hit the stage again, playing a couple of shows on regional stages. Like they always have, the band has again attracted the attention of musical luminaries, this time Patterson Hood, who has been singing the band’s praises with boisterous shout-outs and celebratory platitudes. However, with such a legion of dedicated fans, whom most had probably given up on the prospect of hearing new music from the band, 6 String Drag will bring a fevered following regardless of who lends a recommendation.

Titled Roots Rock N’ Roll, this eleven track collection is aptly named as it serves as a throwback to the golden age of the rock era, when simply shaking your hips or aggressively pounding away at your instruments was cause for social and moral concern. Suitably recorded quickly and live in just four short days, the band lets it all out and revels in the unadulterated pleasure of making music. There’s a Buddy Holly ‘50s vibe on album-opening “Drive Around Town” that celebrates the long-ago Friday night shenanigans of a guy, his guitar, his girl, and a hot car. A lively horn section brings New Orleans swing to the infectiously groovy “OOOEEOOOEEOOO” and a wobbly morning-after fog to the elegiac “Hard Times, High Times”.

The band chugs along with punchy aggression on tracks like “Happier Times” and “Choppin’ Block”, but then just as easily dials back and turns contemplative on wistful ruminations like “Give Up The Night” and “I Miss The Drive-In”. Roby continues to pen a fine song, expertly capturing small-town, working-class scenery. “I’m just a bus boy from downtown/Get my money by the hour/One day I’m gonna steal ol’ Sylvia/She’s gonna be my sweet” he sings at one point. Like all good southern writers, Roby embodies these lines and paints a vividly authentic picture that makes the sentiments believable and realistic. There are pining bus boys and girls like Sylvia in red dirt towns from the Carolinas all the way across to Louisiana.

A 6 String Drag reunion has been a long time coming. With Roots Rock N’ Roll, they’ve filtered the masters through their own exuberant vibe and given listeners a live-on-the-fly showcase. They look to be back in business and ready to build upon this much-appreciated musical reunion.

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