“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