If good songwriting and twangy songs are your wheelhouse and you don’t mind some off-kilter singing, Craig Brown Band might be worth your time.
Craig Brown is a Detroit-based musician who spends his days teaching guitar and his nights tending bar and performing in bands. Before the Craig Brown Band, his most successful act was the punk band Terrible Twos, a group notable mostly for their effective integration of synths into a traditional punk sound. The Lucky Ones Forget is not like that. It’s a corny country record, anchored by over the top twang and Brown’s nasal yelp of a singing voice.
Which is not to say the album is a joke. Brown and his bandmates are clearly having a lot of fun and not taking themselves too seriously, but the songwriting and playing are generally high quality. That tonal balancing act is apparent from the start, as “I Wondered What” announces itself with a quiet intensity of strummed acoustic guitars and Brown singing softly “I saw the light / I saw the light / I saw the light / It ain’t bright.” He immediately punctures this intensity with the next set of lines: “I see the sun / I’m the youngest son / I stare into the sun for fun.” The rest of the band comes in with a loping country swagger, and as Brown winds up into his full yelp for the song’s chorus, sisters Caitlin and Bonnie Drinkard show up with lovely “ooo” and “ahh” backing vocals to sweeten the sound. The song even features a really nice extended twanging guitar solo.
Much of The Lucky Ones Forget follows this template. Musically it is a solid country record. Sometimes the twang hits a little harder, sometimes the songs lean toward rock. But Brown stays away from the arena rock leanings of bro-country and doesn’t bother to dip into bluegrass or roots rock territory much at all. The record’s second track, “Planet Song”, is a good example. It also begins with an acoustic first verse, but once the band comes in it is a catchy song that is easy to enjoy. But that enjoyment might hinge on your tolerance for wordplay like, “The world keeps turning, and I didn’t plan it / The planet keeps spinning everyday” and “My van still works, but she’s breaking a lot / Not doing much braking, the pads are shot.” That’s some straight up cheeseball stuff, and Brown embraces that lyrical cheese again and again throughout the record.
Speaking of lyrics, there are a couple of basketball references here that stick out like a sore thumb. “Overthinking” is a peppy, upbeat song that could almost pass for The Byrds if the band switched out the slightly distorted electric guitar for a 12-string acoustic. But there’s a bit about growing older that goes, “I’m already losing / Aging gets confusing / When Steph Curry is younger than me.” “Mine’s Better” finishes out the album with a heavy twang and a nice joke about not wanting to see an ex and her new boyfriend: “I don’t want to smoke your weed / Mine’s better.” That simple joke is a better fit for the song than the line that goes “Basketball is on my tube / Takes me back I used to hoop.” It’s not like a guy can’t talk about his favorite sport in some songs, it’s just kind of jarring to hear in this style of music. But I suppose genre norms are altered by the outliers.
Elsewhere on the album, Brown ticks off a lot of the boxes that come standard with country music. “Shoulda Been Fishin’” is a languid song that finds him complaining about all his bad choices and what he should’ve done instead. “Glad You Came (Happy You Left)” is a slow rolling, five and half minute song with the premise “I’m better off without you now.” “Get This Money” fantasizes about coming into a lot of cash suddenly and wonders “When I get this money / Will it change me?” It’s also the only song on the album that betrays Brown’s punk roots. Not so much because it’s fast, but because the chugging guitars and bass give the song some additional muscle.
As solid musically as The Lucky Ones Forget is, Brown’s singing style may be a barrier to entry for some listeners. As a Third Man Records release, this album is going to be targeted more towards adventurous indie rock and alt-country fans more than a mainstream audience. That’s where Brown’s audience is going to come from, and despite his multiple nods to genre convention, it doesn’t seem like he’s particularly interested in fighting for country radio airplay or anything. If good songwriting and twangy songs are in your wheelhouse and you don’t mind some off-kilter singing, Craig Brown Band might be worth your time.