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Drag The River | Hobo's Demos (Upland Records)
I presume it makes me something of a freak, but I have a penchant for compilation albums, label samplers and the like. Yup, I'll buy most anything that parades unheard talent. I'm sure this can be equated to the excitement of the lucky dip barrel, in the twinkling wonderland of a childhood fairground. You're never quite sure what lurks temptingly within. A while back, I slid upon White Out On Black Ice, a budget showcase of Upland Records' roster. Alongside the jaunty mountain tunes of Spot and Stop and Listen Boys, and the spooky dream-pop of Grandpa's Ghost, were three fairly pedestrian trad country-rock offerings from Drag The River. The sleeve of Hobo's Demos promises much. A detached torso sits at a pedal-steel that is mounted on a surface draped with a cloth of shimmering emerald green material, emblazoned with an image of the Madonna. There is quicksilver pedal-steel in abundance throughout the ten tracks of DTR's curious second album, all recorded in 1996 and 1997, prior to their eponymous debut, but little to suggest that this band are likely to further this burgeoning scene. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but this does feel like the side project that it indeed is. DTR's core is Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass, whose day-jobs are with All and Armchair Martian respectively. This is music for fun, but the lack of originality in arrangement or lyrical topics let it down a mite. Mars Motors is a standard hoedown and a paean to rocket fins; Tomorrow Morning a Crazy Horse crunch-a-thon-by-numbers, both calling to mind recent offerings from The Hooblers or Big In Iowa. The best moments are, naturally enough, those that take the creaking country themes ?? shattered relationships, guilt, self-loathing, paranoia and booze ?? and place them in fragile acoustic frameworks. The Bottle and Crutchless are examples, and lovely both, but you can't help but predict each next line. Only Back To God really excites, a wee stomper that reminds us all where redemption can be sought should the bottle run dry. This is not a bad album, just a decent collection of songs in demo form. But. at only 31 minutes, perhaps an indulgent and pointless exercise or a reminding prod that there is a more satisfying and complete first album out there. Both DTR and Upland are based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and are still young ventures. The former exude enough spirit to keep us watching, but that little extra spice is needed before accolades rain down. Upland is a label in slow ascendancy, but it needs that one truly special act to open its roster to a greater audience, whereupon DTR will benefit. Let's wish them well.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000