Album Review – Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers’ ‘Dry Up Or Drown’

It’s rare that you see an independent country band gain popularity through a single song. Usually that said band has a breakthrough album that, even if unnoticed at first is eventually found by at least one critic as if they discovered a slew of buried treasure. Either way, whether through a song or an album, the discovery of a band leads to discussion amongst music fans, something this critic loves.

This brings us to Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers. In January of this year when the Mississippi, Meramec, and Missouri (and many others) rivers flooded their respective states, the band released a video for the title track of their album, Dry Up Or Drown that accurately and disturbingly portrayed the flooded towns and the effects it had on them through real footage. Needless to say it’s an excellent video and if you haven’t seen it, check it out below. This isn’t something that should be passed up.
I’m not just here to talk about the song though, because while the song itself is one of the best you’ll hear this year, the album it stems from is of a high caliber of quality.

Dry Up Or Drown is an album rooted in traditional country, rock and roll, and even a little bit of blues with a hint of 90’s alt-country. Put it all together and you get some damn good music. While it’s not a concept album in nature, many of the tracks here are framed from the perspective of the everyday working man and the challenges that those working men face in their various jobs as well as in their towns. It’s a very dark album in nature, as even the themes that don’t deal with small town life usually deal with hard living and heartbreak.

Right from the start you know you’re getting a special album. The dark Western guitar riffs that open up “The Grind” are absolutely fantastic and match a dark theme of a man who just doesn’t know how to truly love a woman no matter how hard he tries. It’s almost bone chilling that a track like “Little More Tough” comes before the title track with its theme of never letting the worst of things in life get you down. The line “everyday you’re further underwater” is the scariest use of foreshadowing you’ll hear on a country album this year. The message is certainly something that’s nice to cheer for and something we should all abide by, but all of a sudden real life sinks in. When the hard times actually hit us we sometimes don’t know what to do. That sentiment is perfectly captured in the title track as the entire town that has flooded has now pretty much been abandoned and those who have stayed have given up hope (“God is great and God is good but he’s never going to save this town”). The theme of the working man and is trouble is highlighted once again on tracks like “Clinchfield” and another album highlight in “Thresherman’s Waltz” with the latter featuring some great usage of pedal steel.

Towards the middle of the album we see the album move from more traditional country sounding tunes to that which resemble something you would have heard in 90’s alt-country. “Hey There Lonely” and “Clinchfield” serve as a testament to this sound, with The Rural Route Rambler’s guitar player, Adam taking over the vocals here (as well as on Promised Land Rd. later on).

Elsewhere, tracks like “Some Of Your Time” and “Wrong Road” are also worthy tracks that highlight a promising rising band. The former is a great bluesy track while the latter is a rocking hell-raiser about hard living and the consequences that have followed. At nine tracks, there’s no room for filler tracks and you certainly won’t walk away from this album thinking that you’re not getting enough good songs.

With an album as dark as this, there are usually moments that balance out the album with more light-hearted subject material. This isn’t that album. It’s an album that is no frills, and focuses on the reality of the hardships of life. “Promised Land Rd.” ends with a tale of our male protagonist’s reflection on his childhood and his friendship with a man named Virgil Johnson. As Johnson dies, our male protagonist eventually moves into Johnson’s old house where he starts a family. Although his friend his gone and the town he lives in isn’t the best, there seems to be a slight ray of hope for the future. The album never confirms it however since that’s not how life works. We don’t know when the good or bad times will end. The best we can do is to just to cherish the good and stay as strong as we can during the bad.

I don’t think you’ll find a better debut album this year than the one from Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers. The sounds present here are sure to please country fans and the songwriting here is absolutely fantastic. It might be a little dark for some people but for me, it’s an utterly fantastic listen that proves that these boys will be an act to watch for years to come.

Best Tracks: “Dry Up Or Drown”, “Thresherman’s Waltz”, “The Grind”

You can buy Dry Up Or Drown directly from the band’s website as well as on Amazon!

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