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.