Raleigh’s 6 String Drag regroups and releases a new record

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF: "I don't think there's less expectation, it's just different expectations," says Kenny Roby, left, of releasing Roots Rock 'N' Roll with 6 String Drag. The group reunited last year after a 16-year break. "My goal now is to make it as good as I can make it," says Roby. Photo by Michael Traister

“This time around, it’s like the pitcher who gets a second chance,” says singer-songwriter Kenny Roby. And although baseball metaphors sprinkle his speech, the musician is talking about the comeback of his roots-rock outfit, 6 String Drag. That reunited group shares the bill with Holy Ghost Tent Revival at The Grey Eagle on Saturday, April 4.

Roby and the band — the current lineup is Rob Keller on bass and vocals, Kevin Rader on drums, Luis Rodriguez on guitar and Dave Wright on keys and trombone — re-formed last year and headed into the studio with a selection of songs. In less than a week, they’d recorded, live-to-tape, what would become the aptly named Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll. The album’s 11 tracks gallop through influences of vintage rock, garage, rockabilly and swagger-infused country swing, coalescing those sounds into a vibrant package. “The two things that everybody says is that it has really good energy and that the songs are fun,” says Roby. “It’s a little bit youthful and a little bit dangerous.”

And while Roby jokes that to make a mature album is the kiss of death, there is a kind of experienced perspective that lends ballast to Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll’s bombast. Because 6 String Drag is no baby band. Formed in early ’90s, the Raleigh-based group was among Americana music’s pioneers. “We always had a decent amount of critical success,” says Roby. “But we hit the brakes early — five years into the band.” The resulting 16-year hiatus wasn’t due to bad blood, though. Three-quarters of the band’s members started families within a year of 1997’s High Hat, and life intervened.

Roby went on to pursue a solo career, releasing five albums, including 2013’s searingly gorgeous Memories & Birds. But despite the songwriter’s self-paved inroads, he’s all in with the reassembled band. “It’s a lot more fun to work with a group,” Roby says. “It’s a team. I can have a bad night, and the team can still have a good night. You can have a great time just being with your friends.”

In fact, superlative album aside, “the reunion picnic was as much fun as the softball game,” Roby jokes. If he had any trepidation that 6 String Drag’s players would have grown apart — music-wise or friend-wise — during the outfit’s extended separation, “it didn’t stop me from going full force into the studio with the band,” says Roby.

That reckless thrill is felt from the buoyant opening notes of “Drive Around Town.” “I’m pretty sure there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing wrong with you. I don’t care what other people see — just a boy and girl, doing what we do,” Roby sings, all happy insouciance, slinky guitars and twitchy percussion. “Driving around town is still what I want to do,” Roby says of the song’s brilliantly simple impetus. “As artists, we’re still 16 or 17. We still want to hold onto it.”

That same giddy enthusiasm is telegraphed by the jitterbugging “OOOEEOOOEEOO” and the horn-fueled “Kingdom of Gettin’ it Wrong.” If the influences are retro — and the final track is a damp-palmed slow dance called “I Miss the Drive-In” — they’re relatable. Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll taps not only rock music’s most timeless eras, it also evokes those particularly glowing and aching memories within its listeners. And, even better, it transports us to those golden moments as only music can.

That this record took a decade and a half to foment might actually be a boon: “The older you get and the more you do it, as far as writing or art, you realize you don’t need to throw every pitch,” says Roby. “You have the confidence that you’re going to keep writing, and it’s OK to put a song aside.” So a record can be fine-tuned, honed, made cohesive.

And, Roby adds, “I think this is a record 6 String Drag would have made eventually.”

WHO: 6 String Drag with Holy Ghost Tent Revival
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Saturday, April 4, 9 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.