When they first got together in 1993, Americana was a name for stuff collectors found lying around in barns and attics. The sound of Kenny Roby and bassist Rob Keller's 6 String Drag sound was called alt country back then.
The band's name is taken from the Stanley Brothers song “5 String Drag,” changed up to reflect the fact that the group is more of a guitar band. And although Roby is on record as being enamored by the Stanley Brothers' harmonies, 6 String Drag was never intended to be or to sound like a bluegrass band. If you've gotta have a slot to squeeze it into, twangy rock and roll fits just as well.
Roby and Keller, along with Ed Campbell, first formed the Welfare Liners, which did feature bluegrass and country tunes with Campbell on mandolin, slide, and lap steel. After Campbell left, the lineup for what would forever after be known as 6 String Drag included guitarist Glenn Cannon and drummer Ray Duffey, along with pianist/trombonist David “Pops” Wright, and embraced a more rock-oriented slant. Roby was the chief songwriter, rocking out with his old-school country influences showing. Their self-titled debut came in 1994. Cannon and Wright departed afterwards, with Scotty Miller coming in on guitar to record High Hat in 1997 on Steve Earle's E-Squared label in Nashville. That record was just re-released on vinyl in January as a result of Earle's decision to return the master tapes and publishing rights to bands signed to his label. The band broke up a year after High Hat, but Roby and Keller kept in touch. In 2013, Roby got Keller to play at a festival he was doing and the two teamed up again, adding Miller for a Raleigh reunion show in 2014. To take advantage of the band's newfound momentum, they released The Jag Sessions in 2014, unreleased tracks from '96 and '98. That led to a studio date including drummer Duffey to cut 2015's roots Rock 'N' Roll.
The new lineup with Roby and Keller includes drummer Dan Davis and multi-instrumentalist Luis Rodriguez. Guests include John Ginty, whose keyboard credits include the Allman Brohters, Whiskeytown, and Robert Randolph, and hornman Matt Douglas, who tours and records with Hiss Golden Messenger and Mountain Goats.
The band opens with a twangy Tex-Mex “Never Turn My Back On You Again” that carries a pronounced country accent as well. But it's “Small Town Punks” that captures the essence of 6 String Drag, keeping alive the punk spirit that sparked the band's origin. “We would fall out of the van/into the street / high as a kite,” Roby sings, chased by a boiling guitar riff, confessing that the band had been “Learning cool from other scenes/And polluting other dreams for smething new. ” But this is a welcome pollution, Roby and company's scene-stealing more of homage than a theft.
The title cut is more mellow, a like a late '60s squeaky stringed Lennon-McCartney compositon with Randy Newman fronting the Beatles. “Every Time She Walks On By” is full-throated arena rock built for stomping along in place and shouting back the refrain at the top of your lungs. Roby channels Tom Petty on the jangly rocker, “Let's Fool Around Till The End Of The World.”
“Robert And Lucy” is a full tilt, horn-driven rocker that exemplifies what Roby has always said, that 6 String Drag was, to him at least, what a bar band should sound like.
There's no doubt he's achieved his goal here with a raw, raucous take on alt-Americana, a sound hard to put your finger on but one that wraps comfortably around your ears while it rocks your ass off.