Forty5south: We're Country So We Can

Stephen Haag

I don't say this very often, but: Turn around and run the other way.


We're Country So We Can

Label: Tilo Entertainment
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

I get irked when people tell me, "Oh, I listen to everything but country music." While I understand the sentiment - the so-called "hat acts" that get the majority of radio airplay these days don't do it for me, and my political bent doesn't match up with that of many country artists - to write off an entire genre is to lose out on a ton of great music.(Didja get Loretta Lynn's stupendous Van Lear Rose last year? What about the new Shooter Jennings disc? 'Tis good stuff.) Consider me open-minded. But then I come across We're Country So We Can, the sophomore album by Jackson, TN's Forty5south, and that odious "everything-but-country" phrase makes sense to me. We're Country So We Can is everything that makes people hate country music. And even a little bit more.

Where to even start? This is a matter of taste, but when every song sounds like it's been polished to a high sheen for inclusion in a Ford truck commercial, there's a problem. The band - lead singer Ashley Bowers (male), guitarist Justin Tapley, guitarist/mandolinist Phillip Lemmings, bassist Seth Gordon, and drummer Jonathan King - position themselves as humble boys from Jackson, but their songs are too slick and overproduced, with Bowers' (admittedly strong and expressive) voice pushed up way too far in the mix. Country music's supposed to be a little ragged and warm coming out of the speakers, not squeaky clean. The band namechecks legends like Hank Williams and David Allen Coe on various tunes on the album, so you'd think they would know that. Blame the producer: Bret Michaels. The Guy from Poison. Seriously. Yes, the man who did his best to defang dangerous rock music in the '80s now has his sights set on destroying country music. Of course, he can't do it alone.

How Michaels shacked up with the band, and the misguided affinity they have for each other, is too priceless not to share. Sez Bowers in the press kit: "Bret was one of the few guys that the band collectively listened to while growing up. He has always crossed the boundaries between rock and country." When did this ever happen? Is it because Michaels often wears that ridiculous straw cowboy hat? We'll never know; Bowers doesn't elaborate. Anyhoo, Bowers got Michaels on the phone and he agreed to produce We're Country. Michaels, for his part, says, "These guys are great singers and songwriters who are on the edge of country."

Sorry, Bret -- you're proud of your baby, but nothing could be further from the truth. To a track, each tune is bland, middle-of-the-road "Hot Nashville" country pablum. On "Heaven Only Knows" Bowers notes that "Good things come to those who wait" and "I keep on hoping / I keep on dreaming". And the album is full of stereotypical country characters who could use a good dressing-down by an iconoclastic Robbie Fulks type; unfortunately, Forty5south plays it straight. In fact, they traffic solely in cliché: there's the teen narrator of "I've Been There Too" who gets caught with liquor on his breath by his dad -- but it's OK cuz Paw is cool with it and did it as a teen himself! On "Secondhand Life" a couple struggles to make ends meet and lives in a shithole trailer -- but it's OK cuz they have each other! Bowers picks up some hottie who "was raised in a church / but has been to jail" and makes out with her in the bed of his truck (I kid you not) on (again, I kid you not) "Taste of Class", then drinks in another bar after a hard week of work and listens to Lynyrd Skynyrd on the jukebox on "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em". Doesn't anyone in the South do anything that hasn't already been chronicled in song dozens of times?

There is plenty of competition, but the winner of the Obnoxious Southern Stereotype Award goes to the title track, where Bowers (with some vocal help from Michaels) catalogs what makes Southerners so great: their love of NASCAR, their tendency to sit on a front porch and spit chew tobacco into a can, their love of drinking three beers while fishing and watching a woman sunbathe, their abundance of double wide trailers and the fact that they "stand up proud and never back down from another man" regardless of the circumstances. All of these behaviors are justified because they're "country", so they can. Spare me. It'd be one thing if these tunes were delivered with a wink, a la Kid Rock, but Forty5south is irony-free. Songs like this one don't explain only why people hate country music (undeservedly boastful, indignant for no particular reason); they're why other countries hate us.

Despite the preceding paragraphs' worth of evidence to the contrary, I do not revel in hatchet jobs. But when an album's lyrics, sound, and production are as out of whack as those on We're Country So We Can, something must be said. I do not badmouth the South, nor country music; ill-conceived music, regardless of region or genre, however, I cannot abide.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.