Country Westerns
Photo: Angelina Castillo / Big Hassle

Country Westerns’ ‘Forgive the City’ Bristles With Punk Energy and Barroom Rockers

Country Westerns’ music is tight, propulsive, and unafraid to meld genres. Their “punk chutzpah with classic rock sheen” is unafraid of country and blues flavors.

Forgive the City
Country Westerns
Fat Possum Records
28 April 2023

Exasperation, disillusionment, and an audacious middle finger to the external narratives that seek to constrain us are essential ingredients in the punk rock aesthetic, expressed in both style and substance. Forgive the City, the second full-length LP by the Nashville-based Country Westerns, seasons energetic rockers with dashes of punk energy and attitude. Their self-description boldly claims an infusion of “punk rock chutzpah with classic rock sheen”. Their sophomore effort makes a case for truth in advertising.

Country Westerns consist of frontman and 12-string guitarist Joey Plunket, who landed in Nashville via Atlanta, virtuosic drummer Brian Kotzur, a seasoned Nashville indie rock percussionist having previously played for Silver Jews and Crooked Fingers, and bassist Jordan Jones, formerly of Los Angeles glam rock band Easy, replacing Sabrina Bush who provided bass licks for the band’s first album. They have teamed again with producer Matt Sweeney who produced the eponymous debut album and here lends his producing prowess while laying down guitar tracks on three of the album’s songs (“Wait for It”, “Hell”, and “Where I’m Going”). 

Forgive the City emerges from a convergence of contexts—the pandemic’s collective stress and involuntary retreat from the everyday grind, the challenges of partnership in the immediate and long haul, and the strain against the status quo routine for traveling bands. Plunket shared in the advance press that he and Kotzur were on a “…big Clash kick before making [Forgive the City].” The hard-driving charge of punk energy imprints the album, itself a little fiercer and faster than their first outing. This energy is channeled into a rollicking pushback on the mundane establishment, rendering the creative spirit restless and testing one’s resilience.

The hard-driving punk intensity applies only to a few songs on the album, most notably the first and third tracks, “Knucklen” and “Grapefruit”. “Knucklen” opens the album with the kinetic force akin to a musical greyhound bursting onto the dog track when the mechanical rabbit races onto its electronic route. The song’s frenetic musical pace belie a road-weary exhaustion theme in the track and much of the album. The interplay between Plunket’s convulsive 12-string riffs and Kotzur’s drumming pulsate within the song’s ability to raise the heart rate even when sedentary. All the while, Plunket’s distinctive, low growl vocals weave a tale of the toll taken on a hustling musician, where the beleaguered road warrior might welcome the unwanted break of the pandemic. “When they shut down the streets, it was kind of a relief.”

The punk-like energy continues in “Grapefruit”, which displays Plunket’s gift for clever metaphor and world-building in a two-minute and 25-second hard-driving narrative. “Grapefruit” is ostensibly about approaching the last call at a bar low on citrus mixers but shifts into a philosophical exploration of opportunities that present themselves both bitter and sweet, a world of risk where one holds “regret like a jealous child”. Brian Kotzur’s dynamic drum fills and breakneck beat shine in this song. At the same time, Plunket’s lyrics play with the title’s imagery as a placeholder for the risks we might be willing to take in breaking free of the crush of mundanity. “It’s bitter, and it’s sweet like antifreeze / All the dogs in town think they’re running free / A taste could kill you, but it might be worth it.”

The punk rock pace of these songs accompanies a tracklist filled with boisterous barroom rockers, aural premonitions that this band would be worth suspending your regularly scheduled programming to catch them live in your geographical radius. Ironically, “Speaking Ill of the Blues”—which Plunket referred to as “the most chill song on the record”—emerges as a stand-out track on the propulsive album tracklist. Here the trio works together seamlessly grounded by Jones’s bass lines around which Kotzur’s precise drum fills and Plunket’s jangle pop riffs interact in a slower, blues rock number. The line, “How’d we end up working in the hands of the tools?” summarizes a precise type of existential angst emergent in late capitalist neoliberalism. It’s a line that opens into a communal story of exasperation and exploitation whose remedy might just be the counterinsurgency of the blues.

This philosophical undercurrent continues within tunes like “Wait For It”, a zen rocker that hints at the grounding power of contentment within the moment (“All I am is all I’ll ever be.”). “It’s a Livin” is the hero’s journey as a barroom anthem. Country Westerns display their range and alchemic ability to sample genres together in tracks like “Hell”, where 1960s psychedelia interfaces with the surf rock guitar vibe of the Ventures in a jangle pop variation on Sartre’s No Exit dictum.

The overall strength of this album encounters occasional misses like “Country Westerns”, which plays like a press bio set to music, and the punk-paced “Cussin’ Christians”, an eye-catching title whose promise is never fully fleshed out in the lyrics. On their own, these songs are not bad. They are just temporary dips amid the other tunes.

Country Westerns build on and continue the promise of their critically-acclaimed debut with their work in Forgive the City. Their music is tight and propulsive and is unafraid to bend categories and meld genres. Their “punk chutzpah with classic rock sheen” is also unafraid of country and blues flavors. They generate the excitement and novelty that another Nashville-based group of punkish alt-country rockers, Jason and the Scorchers, once did in the midtown rock block of Music City in the late 1980s. It’s a follow-up that confirms their debut’s prowess wasn’t a one-off while whetting the appetite for what could be on the horizon as the elements continue to come together. 

RATING 7 / 10