There is a winking irony in the opening song, "Having a Party," on Colorado band Drag the River's latest album. For one thing, the Sam Cooke cover heaves forward with a slow strum, accentuated by singer Jon Snodgrass' gravelly honky-tonk voice, that says "wake" more than "party." Despite the members' punk backgrounds, the mood is in keeping with Drag the River's celebrated Midwestern somberness. For another thing, the stomping synchronicity and background hallelujah shouts belie the fact that the group's very existence has, in recent years, seemed like an ever-changing variable.
As recently as 2007, Snodgrass quit a Drag the River tour, while insisting he did not quit the band. They continued to release split 7-inch records, however, while Snodgrass and River co-leader Chad Price continued to write and play shows together. On the rare occasion, some form of the band's lineup plays out in full, leaving their official status as a kind of semi-hiatus.
"Chad and I are slowly thinking about songs for a new album," says Snodgrass. "I've got several `songs` that are obvious DTR songs. Chad just finished his own record. It's super-good and has at least four or six of the best songs he's maybe ever done. I got to sing on the best one."
Earlier this year, Drag the River released a collection of splits and B-sides appropriately titled Bad at Breaking Up that gathers some of their best work, including "Having a Party."
At the same time, Snodgrass released his debut solo album, Visitor's Band. In addition to his hard-lived vocals and bitter twang — "I smoke too much," admits Snodgrass — the singer collaborates with other country-rock artists like Two Cow Garage, allowing Snodgrass to break from the norm. On a cover of the Schemers' "Remember My Name," he sounds like a revved-up Bruce Springsteen, while other tracks thrash with a garage-like passion.
While these indulgences are exhilarating to hear, Snodgrass consistently brings it back home with downtrodden roots music. "Baby, I'm through pushin' 'round/Maybe I'm through with the sound," he snarls on "Finally."
"I don't know, it's just honest music," says Snodgrass. "I've always been a guy that plays Midwestern music. Sometimes it's loud and sometimes it's not. It's really the only kind of music my fingers easily play. It's natural for me."
Snodgrass also hints that his mind has lately been in a very Drag the River place.
"`Chad Price and I` came up with one `song` a week or so ago: ‘The Other Side of OK.' We wrote it walking down the street and sang it into my phone so as not to forget it. I write most of the best ones that way."
Regardless of what happens with his band, Snodgrass is a true friend. A man of few words, he's at his most animated when it comes to Price's upcoming solo debut: "I was honored `that` he asked me to sing a bit on it."[email protected]