Even though Drag the River broke up almost a year ago, they’ve released You Can’t Live This Way as the final hurrah in a decade’s worth of Americana. Based on an extensive comparison of album tracks to YouTube clips, Drag the River seems to be a band best enjoyed live, so I guess we’re all out of luck here.
Chad Price, better known for his stints in punk bands Descendents and ALL, has a lovely whiskey-and-cigarettes rasp made especially for country music; it’s certainly not as loud as his earlier work, but it has the same punkish passion. Price alternates lead vocals with bandmate and writing partner Jon Snodgrass, who possesses an equally sandpapery voice, while the improbably named and woefully underused Spacey Casey gives good pedal steel on three tracks.
The vast majority of the songs on You Can’t Live This Way sound very similar to one another. “Rangement” is the most unique and interesting song on the album due to the speakeasy-esque horn and piano breakdown in the middle of the song that elevates it above its cookie-cutter peers. “Lost Angel Saloon” features the same down and out, quietly desperate, vaguely slutty small town girl that has been a trope of alt-country music since its inception: she left home at 18! Runs around with boys! Drinks cheap beer to forget! Retreads the same ground covered by Uncle Tupelo years ago, only without the songwriting chops of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar! The other songs on the record are equally generic, save “Br00tal,” which isn’t bad, but loses points simply for its violation of Rock & Role Rule 29: unless you are Prince, numbers and letters in song titles must remain mutually exclusive.
The final track of the album, “You Can’t Live This Way”, is simply all the songs of the album without the gaps. While this may just be a slacker’s way of trying to extend the length of a short record (of which 34 minutes is this final cut), this track really makes you appreciate the album’s flow. In the age of MP3 players and their shuffle-crazed, possibly ADD-afflicted listeners, the whole of the record is often ignored in favor of its hook-happy singles; however, You Can’t Live This Way is definitely a record worth more than the sum of its parts. There are no truly standout songs, but then again, there are no songs that are truly mediocre; Drag the River makes perfectly run of the mill Americana. That is more of a compliment than it seems, by the way, because we all know there’s quite a bit of awful alt-country floating around out there.
You Can’t Live This Way doesn’t leave an immediate impact on the listener. At first listen, it seems bland, utterly forgettable once the stereo has been turned off or iPod stashed in messenger bag. It’s certainly a record you can live without; passable longhaired roots rock seems to be as prevalent as Botox syringes at Faith Hill’s house these days, so there’s a good chance you’ve heard half a dozen bands just like Drag the River. But if for some reason you find yourself with a few extra bucks in your pocket and a couple hours to kill, grab a cheap six-pack and check these guys out. It won’t change your life and it certainly won’t get you laid (unless you go for the “Lost Angel Saloon” type), but it’ll make your backyard drinking a little bit more enjoyable, even if not memorable.