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Forty5 South - We're Country So We Can

Tilo Records
Album Review by Cheryl Harvey Hill

Ashley Bowers (lead vocals), Jonathon King (drummer), Seth Gordon (bass), Phillip Lemmings (guitarist and mandolin) and Justin Tapley (guitar), collectively known as Forty5 South, took their name from the highway that runs through their home state but their talent, camaraderie and ambition has taken them farther off the 45 South highway than they ever dared to dream when they began selling their homemade albums off the back of their pickup truck in the parking lot of Jimmy D's Sports Bar in Jackson, Tennessee. 

They arrived on the country scene at a time when the genre was being altered by what some die-hard traditionalists would call illicit alliances of country with pop: i.e. Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett ─ Kenny Chesney with Uncle Kracker. After the universal success of these eclectic mergers it isn't surprising that on their sophomore album they would hook up with someone they had long admired; Brett Michaels of the successful rock group Poison.

In addition to his producing skills, Michaels is featured vocally on the bridge of the title track, "We're Country So We Can". He comes on board with an impressive resume' of success that includes over 22 million records sold and fifteen top forty singles in the past two decades. Ironically, just as this first single from their new album hit radio airwaves, the first song from Michaels own album, "All I Ever Needed," has successfully crossed over from the rock to country airplay charts.

As out-and-out fans of the group Poison, the band says they felt that Michaels "would bring an amazing and unique dynamic to the album" but after hearing the album, I think that it is the prodigious writing skills of lead vocalist, Bowers (who had a hand in writing eleven of the twelve songs on the album) combined with the vibrant instrumentals and first rate (collective) vocals that give this group its high energy and most unique dynamic.

Bowers songwriting skills are decisively complimented by those of his longtime friend Bryan Dinkins who co-wrote on four of the tracks but the strongest songs for me on the album were the tender "A Mile Away" and just about everybody is going to recognize themselves, or someone they know, in "Nothing You Can Do" which is extremely well written and tenderly delivered.

The first video to come from this album is the title track which Michaels produced, directed and appears in. Tapley said that Michaels "knew what he wanted from us and he pushed us to get exactly that." But when asked to compare their sound to an established act Bowers states that "You can't define it in terms of anything else out there." That may well be because there isn't anything else like it out there. They are unique ... in their spirit, their brotherhood, their sincerity and their collective energy.

Being an Army vet, I have to express my gratitude for the shows that Forty5 South did for the Armed Forces Entertainment group in Asia, Guam, The Marshall Islands, Korea and Japan. The band played twenty-eight shows in forty days. AFE shows are not exactly the Opry; you have to be completely selfless and dedicated to take part in this sometimes brutal excursion where the back of a deuce and a half often doubles as a stage. This type of tour demonstrates that their immense compassion is equal to their wonderful talent.

When you itemize the pros and cons of this group, you realize there aren't any cons - literally or figuratively - these guys are the real deal. Their music is traditional enough to please the true-blue country fans but they add enough Tabasco to get the ole mule to kick. When asked about the title cut, Bowers says, “This record is all about being confident in who you are no matter where you come from.” In the case of Forty5 South, I'd say they have every right to feel confident as they are definitely coming from a really good place.


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