Not many bands can come back from an 18-year break and sound stronger than ever, but 6 String Drag certainly manage it.
The band first emerged in the early ’90s, cutting its teeth in the college town of Clemson, South Carolina before leaving for the greener pastures of Raleigh, North Carolina. At the forefront of the young alt-country genre along with bands like Son Volt and Whiskeytown, they released two official records: 1995’s 6 String Drag and 1997’s Steve Earle-produced High Hat. There was also Rock On!, a post-breakup “bootleg” of sorts, and a recent Kickstarter project yielded another unreleased material, The Jag Sessions. In the years since the band parted ways, singer Kenny Roby also maintained a career of well-received solo albums while the rest of the band — lead guitarist Scotty Miller, drummer Ray Duffey and bassist Rob Keller — all stayed musically busy.
Although 6 String Drag are fondly remembered, they never hit it big. Still, when news of reunion shows and a new album broke, it wasn’t greeted by those in the know with the usual chorus of “Can these guys still hack it?” but instead a warm “Oh man, I have really missed that band.” That’s due to a unique sound that was equal parts Stanley Brothers, Louvin Brothers, southern soul and vintage rock ‘n’ roll.
As this newest effort’s name would suggest, Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll finds the band concentrating on the rock aspect of their personality. Recorded live and with few overdubs, the record conveys the feel of four guys in a room having fun. Arguably, the record has more swing than anything else the band’s ever done, and this from a band that always knew its way around a good groove. Opening with a simple statement of purpose, “Drive Around Town”, things transition smoothly into the lighthearted Chuck Berry vibe of “Oooeeoooeeooo” before taking a breather with the acoustic bordertown feel of “Give Up the Night”. “Kingdom of Gettin’ It Wrong” bursts with upbeat horns while “Precious Things” is a bluesy slow burn. The album doesn’t stumble at all until the Weenish weirdness of eighth track “Me & My Disease” and that’s the kind of thing that comes down to personal preference, really. Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll is an impressive, catchy return.
The album closes on a poignant note with the gentle “Hard Times, High Times” and “I Miss the Drive-In”, which longs for a time when life and relationships were simpler in a way that would fit right into a Springsteen set. It ties a neat bow on a record that’s informed by nostalgia, but which tackles old memories and old times with the kind of perspective that’s typically granted only by a healthy share of years on this earth. Roby’s voice is deeper and more soulful, and it’s likely that even if the band had pulled off some of these songs back in the day, they might not have been so sure-handed. Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll not only makes it clear that 6 String Drag didn’t lose anything in the years leading up to their reunion, but that they also might have picked up a few new tricks along the way.