Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I love writing about classic albums and will use any excuse to review anything in this weight class. When I found out High Hat was going to be reissued and remastered for the 20th anniversary of said album, I was ecstatic. It is much easier writing about an album that has a lot of history for obvious reasons. More familiarity leads to a more thorough review because I have a greater awareness. And, I get a chance to write about a topic I am quite passionate about.
So High Hat is one of those seminal “alt-country” albums that has far reaching appeal. So much so that I am totally shocked that 6 String Drag doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! This is a real outrage. I digress. This release was produced by Steve Earle and has been out of print for a long time. To be able to buy this album and more importantly hear this album is a milestone.
High Hat has a timeless quality that can be validated. Just playing this album reveals that it sounds just as vital and current today as it did over 20 years ago. That is another milestone and proof positive that 6 String Drag was way ahead of their time. In fact, I can hear at least ten Americana bands that came after 6 String Drag but sound coincidentally familiar to the sounds contained on High Hat. Their influence has legs. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that 6 String Drag were true trailblazers by blending country and rock with horns and other instruments not generally associated with rock and/or country.
I have been listening to this great album now for about five days straight. It is so good that I want to listen unfettered without having to do anything else, even write. But write I must. One word: Guilty (Track 4). This song begins as any country song might with a twangy guitar tagline. What sets this song apart, I mean what really sets this song apart are the harmonies. They are world class and hall of fame worthy.
While I am on the subject of harmonies, I cannot overlook the next track Red (Track 5). The harmonies are pitch perfect nuggets that belong somewhere among the celestial bodies. This also another tune that is adorned with horns and even contains a totally smashing saxophone solo to close out the number.
I mentioned that High Hat was produced by Steve Earle. If you want to see and hear Steve’s autograph, just listen to the opening bars of Bottle Of Blues (Track 1). If those opening riffs don’t just scream Steve Earle, then nothing does. Bottle Of Blues has some serious edge to it. The vocals are almost more of a scream (in key, of course) than pure singing. Too add to the edginess, you also have some serious slide guitar and a very upbeat tempo.
6 String Drag also has a knack of singing about topics or events that I have no previous knowledge of, yet I feel informed. Elaine (Track 2) is a shining example. Kenny Roby, the lead vocalist, belts out the line, “I miss Elaine”. I don’t even know Elaine but the lyrics are sung so convincingly, I miss Elaine as well. This song is country royalty.
It was a tragedy that High Hat has been out of print and out of circulation for so long. That wrong has been righted and the world is a better place because of it. Those people who used to enjoy this album back in the day can now obtain a fresh copy. This now opens it up to a whole new generation of listeners who get to hear some of the founding fathers of Americana.