Artists worth their salt generally don't like to be pigeon-holed into categories. But sometimes, it is a necessary evil to operate within the star making machinery that is the music business. I'm saying this for a reason as I dive into my review of music from a band I've only just discovered. Music that in many ways defies category. I recently was sent advance copies of albums by a group called "6 String Drag." The band has regrouped releasing a fine new record while also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its acclaimed second album (produced by Steve Earle!) for us to re-consider anew.
I'm glad they are back together! I listened first to the new 6 String Drag album -- called Top of the World -- and my initial takeaway was that this was not just so-called "Americana" music... it isn't just "Alt-Country" or whatever. It is ALL those things and more.
6 String Drag makes compelling, exciting and genuinely interesting music that mashes up many influences from Rock, Country, Blues, Pop and Jazz to ... well... even Bubblegum! At one turn they might sound a bit like Elvis Costello during his mid-80s King of America phase by way Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe's Rockpile. But then they can turn on a dime in the midst of this fine, twangy, jangly, gritty and rocking music, morphing into full-on psychedelia, as if Lynyrd Skynrd was joined on stage by Radiohead for a soaring Pink Floyd homage ("Top of the World," the beautiful title track of their new album).
Top of the World knocked me out from the first notes of the nifty album opener "Never Turn Your Back On Me Again." It's a chugger with a neat bubble-gummy flavored near-power-pop hook echoing The Lemon Pipers's classic hit "Green Tambourine" (they even have the obligatory Electric Sitar in there!). The aforementioned title track is epic, prompting me to hit the repeat button on my car stereo several times and then play it for my music buddy Frank as we drove over to Amoeba Music (Frank dug it too!). There is some terrific songwriting going on here that at once lets you know these guys have depth and substance. The production is really lovely, creating a rich, warm and enveloping canvas for the music -- sparkling acoustic and gritty electric guitars on down to a tinkling kiddie piano.
On their 1997 debut, High Hat, 6 String Drag is no less compelling if a little looser, perhaps sounding like a well-honed young band playing their live set in the studio. The album is solid, rocking and swinging. I really like rollicking opener "Bottle of Blues" and the forty-five seconds long "85 on 85" which sounds like a snippet of a Butthole Surfers outtake run through a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier (with the reverb set to 11!). "Guilty" is a great little number which I could hear Los Lobos or The Mavericks playing in a heartbeat. "Elaine" is a really sweet country-tinged hip-shaker with some nice chord twists.
I just found some live recordings of 6 String Drag up on YouTube and there the lead singer sounds almost like Randy Newman at times. Check out how they switch up time signatures on this bluesy-jazzy country-rocker called "Brasstown" -- this is very cool stuff folks.
On CD, both albums sound quite good, particularly treating the vocals and acoustic instruments kindly (no harsh overly digital production edges to the music here). High Hat and their other recordings are up on Tidal now in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD quality. Top of the World will probably be there on Tidal soon and it will be out on vinyl as well -- I'll probably do an update on those versions when they come out. But for now, this music is worth getting in any format you can find it on.
Groups like 6 String Drag renew my faith in the power of song craft and the joy of creating timeless music.
That is something worth celebrating.