Because Songs Matter

Drag The River – Self Titled

The best thing about Drag The River’s new self-titled record is that it exists at all. If you’ve followed the band at all you’re aware that they rarely play live and it’s been a number of years since their last “real” release. (Bad At Breaking Up & 2010 Demons being less than full band collections) I went back in the Nine Bullets archive and the first mention of them was in 2006 and the second mention was in 2006 about them breaking up. So the point I’m trying to make is that you should be really fucking excited that these guys made a record for us. And it kicks ass. And it’s Essential Listening.

Drag The River was the band of my college years. We were in the same town and they played a good bit way back then. I left Ft. Collins for eight years and I had a couple of friends who when Drag would play they would call me up during the show and just hold the phone up in the air. I would get voicemail messages where I couldn’t hear shit and they would go on for as long as seventeen minutes. I’m telling you this so you understand that I am totally biased in this review. The music Drag The River has made for the last decade or more is amazing and consistent. And they put the focus on the songs, so while the sound has altered very little from one album to the next, the songwriting is equal to any band in our little world. Jon and Chad’s voices blend together exceptionally well, so much so that even though there are Jon songs and Chad songs they all just sound like Drag songs to me.

Let’s talk about this self-titled record a bit: The first four songs are as rock as anything they’ve released in awhile. To me it feels like a statement; a declaration that this is a band record and that they’re going for it. “Black In Bloom” is the first song that jumps out at me. Chad sings lead on this one and it’s in stark contrast to the somber feel of his solo stuff. The subject is still heavy but it’s exciting to hear it in the context of a rock song.

After the four rock songs the pedal steel makes its first appearance right out of the gate on “Like Longfellows.” It serves as a reminder that Drag The River is essentially a barroom country band (or country and Midwestern) and even though I haven’t seen the vinyl yet, my guess is that “Like Longfellows” is the last song on side A and sets the tone for the B side.

Next up is two songs that have been in the Drag cannon for a few years but get their first full band treatment. From a songwriting perspective “Here’s To The Losers” and “The Other Side Of OK” are the centerpieces of this stellar record. It’s from these two songs that show the real growth in the Drag songwriting.

Before I get into these two songs a little more I want to flashback to what’s probably their most popular song, “Get Drunk” from 2002’s Closed. album. When I mentioned the song to Jon not long ago he said that tune was cursed by its title; that it was about not wanting to be with the one you were with, not about drinking. I would agree and add that it’s also cursed by the opening line and the good-time feel. “Get Drunk” is all emotion, an instantaneous bursting of the things you do love to try to avoid thinking about the person you don’t love anymore. It’s a young man’s way, a way of limited reflection and ignoring what’s really on your mind. “The Other Side Of OK”, off the new record is a rumination on regret, the kind of regret that’s hard for a young man to have.  A line like “Sorry for the things that I did and didn’t say/sorry on the way that I up and ran away/on the other side of OK and the thinking that you should have stayed” is not only filled with regret but it’s also overloaded with painful contemplation. And it’s allowing yourself to reflect that the younger man in “Get Drunk” is staying away from. “On Here’s To The Losers” the reflection and perspective begins with the first line. Although the slightly somber tone can feel like regret to me it’s more about understanding this is who you are. And recognizing a younger version of yourself in the people around you.  It’s a song for the older guy at the bar, and I ain’t old, but there are nights I’m aware that I’m the old guy at the bar. And about being OK with it all because there might not be a tomorrow, but there might be.

I’ll admit that I might have gone a little too music journalist for some of you. Oh well. Don’t hold it against the band and buy this record because the songs are great and the band is dialed in.

I’ve always thought Drag The River had an interesting story. They’re a bar band, maybe one of the best ones that’s ever been, but they never gained as much success as their peers. Regardless of success they seem to be held in high regard by musicians of their own generation and the next generation of our little scene. I know we don’t write feature stories here but I’ve thought I might could write a multi-part story about the band. If you’re interested in reading that kind of thing say so in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.

Drag The River - Black In Bloom     

Drag The River - Here's To The Losers     

Drag The River - The Other Side Of OK     

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy the new record

19 Comments

  1. Nick Nick
    November 20, 2013    

    Great write up.

    It’d be an interesting read to hear their history from your point of view. I know I found them through the old Lucero message board around 2004-2005 but who knows.

  2. November 20, 2013    

    I’d read every part of a multi-part story.

    Or just do a “feature length” post.

    Someone ought to chronicle this bands history.

  3. Joel Joel
    November 20, 2013    

    Here’s another vote for a multi-part story. Also, this is a great review.

  4. Nancy Nancy
    November 20, 2013    

    Damn right I’d read it. Second the “great review” comment.

  5. craig craig
    November 20, 2013    

    Yes…a longform article on the band would be much appreciated.

  6. Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
    November 21, 2013    

    Yeah, write that shit up.

    DTR was very much a college band for me as well, although toward the end of that initial run and from thousands of miles away. I learned about them from Allmusic where they were listed as a similar band to somebody I can’t remember–it was probably The Band. They were listed alongside meh bands like The Weight and good bands like Marah and Slobberbone. I had It’s Crazy for a while and I listened to it every now and then, and then out of the blue one time it just struck me how awesome it actually was. It was very weird. Then I got everything. Jon’s Visitor’s Band is the best record ever. “Like Longfellows” is such a great song here.

    • Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
      November 21, 2013    

      I actually avoided getting stuff other than It’s Crazy because when I researched their other albums they were explicitly compared to Uncle Tupelo (I guess b/c they both got 2 singers) and I was in the middle of a huge “fuck Uncle Tupelo because I hate the kind of people who like Wilco” phase…so that was dumb. Thank god I got out of my own way on the DTR and UT fronts. Wilco still kinda sucks.

    • Nick Nick
      November 21, 2013    

      agreed but The Weight was awesome.

  7. Gabriel Gabriel
    November 21, 2013    

    Want to read everything about this band.

    Jon Snodgrass gives the most intense drunken hugs.

  8. Greg Wier Greg Wier
    November 21, 2013    

    Excellent review, I love your analysis of “Other side of OK” and “Here’s to the losers.” Do you think OK stands for Oklahoma? I tend to think it is meant to be both that and “ok” as a feeling.

    Drag the River was one of the bands that made me realize that I liked country. I first came across the band because of Jon Snodgrass’ earlier punk band, Armchair Martain.

    I wrote a review for one of Drag the River’s 7″s awhile back on my seldomly-updated blog, if you are interested: http://fineenoughisuppose.blogspot.com/2012/07/drag-river-garage-rock.html

    • Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
      November 22, 2013    

      Garage Rock is probably my favorite group of songs.

      • Greg Wier Greg Wier
        November 30, 2013    

        For some reason I had never listened to it until about two years ago, perhaps because I never actually have the real 7″. But when I actually decided to give it a listen, boy is it great collection of songs (even if I had heard them before on other releases).

  9. Oliver Oliver
    November 22, 2013    

    Great music. I will be looking forward to your multi-part write-up on this band.
    Thank you

  10. November 24, 2013    

    I feel like I need someone to explain DTR to me. For some reason, all of their songs sound exactly alike to me. I really don’t do want that to be the case.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m absolutely excited to see them play here next week. But I don’t get much out of sitting and listening to the albums.

    Tell me why I’m wrong!

    • November 25, 2013    

      Rachel- It’s OK that you think a lot of the songs sound a lot, they do. I would go back to Closed. It’s my favorite. Think about the songs being about people you know or see. To me it’s almost like a newspaper for townies. (i hate everything about that NfT line, but hopefully you get the idea) That’s one of the things that appeals to me. The these are the people in your neighborhood vibe. Also, there voices work really well together but without sounding like they’re really working at it. There is an off the cuff element to all of their music yet it sounds so together.

    • Mike Ostrov Mike Ostrov
      November 25, 2013    

      I agree with Charles about the voices working together without sounding like it. And agreed that Closed is such a great album. “Song for Robin Reichhardt” spends a lot of time as my favorite DTR song.

      Honestly, I didn’t fully register to me that they even had two different singers until I saw Jon and Chad live. I didn’t get into them through the scene directly, not through Lucero, not through Suburban Home, not through Ninebullets–they were just some faceless band to me for a long time. I think what really grabbed me about them was their personalities once I realized how distinct both Jon and Chad were as songwriters–distinct from each other and from everybody else.

      I’m tempted to say “Wait to you see the whole band live and then let it fall into place,” but I’ve never personally seen the whole band. I’m sure they will have their shit totally together since this is their first tour in a while and they will put on a great show.

      But I would suggest checking out this bootleg of Jon and Chad and Micah: http://thatsthethingaboutthat.blogspot.com/2009/12/micah-schnabel-two-cow-garage-chad.html

      It’s a songwriter-in-the-round show, so everybody’s playing solo, but sometimes they accompany each other–Jon asks Chad for some of his “pretty vocals” on “Strange” and that was the first time I realized “Holy shit, their harmonies are fucking incredible.” Chad starts to play “Tobacco Fields” and Jon says how much he loves this song and it was the first time I noticed “Holy shit, that is a seriously immaculate song.” I think their live bootlegs are the best. Look for anything from the Jon Snodgrass and Cory Branan tours, too.

      And then it might hit you how beautiful the drums and pedal steel are all throughout the It’s Crazy album. How INSANE the drums are on “Hang-Dog” and “Oxes and Horses.” How Chad’s stories are seemingly so sparse but then you get the end of the song and there could be an entire town intimately rendered, like on “Brookfield” or the aforementioned “Get Drunk.”

      Nobody phrases stuff like Jon, he has his reserves of turns of phrases and unique adjectives and images–nobody constructs lines like him except maybe Joey Cape and Chad Rex–nobody can leave lines suspended between logical sense and intuitive sense like he can, if that makes sense. How do you make sense of the lyrics to “Strange” and “Fire & Flood”? And yet those are two of the best dirge-y country songs ever written, for my money.

    • Jon Snodgrass Jon Snodgrass
      November 25, 2013    

      “exactly alike”?? really?
      well, this one below has a kazoo. that’s new.

      seriously, no hard feelings. We do only have 5 types of songs.
      that’s 3 more than the band Helmet.

  11. NS NS
    November 27, 2013    

    I’d like to throw in another vote for the long form piece – that would be a great read.

    Anyone have a link to the podcast version of Jon / Chad on AJAX last Saturday evening……I can’t seem to find it on the site.

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