Music News

Drag the River

Casual brilliance is one thing, but Fort Collins's Drag the River seems to spit up country-rock genius in the split second between slipping off the barstool and hitting the floor. Hey Buddies . . . is a crudely played and recorded EP that doesn't bother with the niceties of extensive overdubs or, apparently, rehearsal. Of course, Drag doesn't need such crap; the band has long thrived on simple, sad pop tunes overlaid with haggard twang and the occasional hollow howl of a pedal steel. And even though Buddies was made by ex-punks with beer guts, there's neither an ounce of fat nor a shred of fakery in these songs -- just a sore liver knocking on the door of its lonely neighbor, the heart. -- Heller On Music for Life, issued by Harmonized, a North Carolina indie, the Motet goes where loads of people have gone before -- into the Land of the Endless Groove, where noodle dancing is the national pastime and jam isn't just for breakfast anymore.

So why is the disc more agreeable than most that gravitate toward this category? For one thing, the Motet doesn't have a vocalist, freeing the musicians to focus on funk rather than the moronic lyrics, crappy singing and cliched melodies that are so common to the genre. For another, the instrumentalists, led by drummer Dave Watts, understand that being "in the pocket" isn't about stealing wallets. The vintage soul-jazz gestures and quasi-African arrangements of numbers such as "Fearless" may not break new ground, but neither do they degenerate into the type of sonic vapidity that's only interesting for those with an endless supply of mushrooms.

In other words, hallucinogens aren't required to make this disc worth hearing. Save them for a rainy day -- or a String Cheese concert, when you'll really need them. -- Roberts