What happens when you can fit your entire tour into a pickup truck? When your song can follow a Neil Young track in a juke joint? When you're able to blend your steel guitar with indie rock unironically? What happens when you stop playing loud and start getting real?
Things get really, really good.
Could this be the culmination of what was intended when Armchair Martian guitarist-vocalist Jon Snodgrass and All frontperson Chad Price decided to unplug their amps and form Drag the River? Now a decade after these hardcore dudes decided to play it slow, low, and rootsy we're left wondering how anyone else can lay claim to the most whiskey-soaked of genres, country rock. Staking thematic ground between Bruce Springsteen and the Minutemen, their sixth album, It's Crazy (Suburban Home, 2006), builds icons from the shells of the down-and-out, romanticizes the working class, and casually explores Americana motifs. It's Crazy's strained, simple "Mr. Crews" pulls us through the tough times of the wayward misanthrope: "Words are hard and bulletproof. Are we monsters? Are we fools? Rednecks, rejects, lonely losers ..." "Leavin' in the Morning" is a sparse charge through failed romance, and "Beautiful and Damned" covers the heart-wrenchingly hopeless category, while "Amazing G." gives an anthemic nod to the misguided barroom girls of the world. "Well, she once believed in Jesus," Price sings, "but she never believed in love. Now she worships at the altar of alcohol." And with a swollen sway, "Dirty Lips" fetishizes the hard-worn woman: "You must be talking too much shit someone's gonna smash your pretty lips."
Fan favorite "Me and Joe Drove Out to California" is straight stadium country the kind that makes you want to drive and drive and drive and in this, Drag the River electrify the essence of the best country songs, crossing state lines, raising hell, and chasing down your own good times.
Track 13 is so much more than just a title track: it's a welcome reprise of the entire album and a reminder that this is not kitsch country this is the hard stuff. In fact, one might have difficulty pegging Drag the River as alt-country if not for the past musical affiliations of its members. Shedding pretense and skin, Drag the River provide their brittle bones for our consideration and show us what veteran punk rockers are capable of. (K. Tighe)
DRAG THE RIVER
With Tim Barry of Avail and Hannalei
Fri/16, 8 p.m., call for price
1600 17th St., SF