Conventional wisdom says if you want to sell enough records to get on the charts, you don’t diss the industry in your songs. Apparently, the Josh Abbott Band didn’t get that memo when they recorded Small Town Family Dream (their third studio release). And yet, the band is beating the odds, debuting at a respectable Number 5 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and Number 15 on the Billboard 200.
In fact, if you listen to Small Town Family Dream, there are three themes you are likely to pick up from the album:
- Josh Abbott loves Texas.
- Josh Abbott doesn’t like Nashville much.
- Josh Abbott doesn’t like mainstream radio much, either.
Now, the Texas love is to be expected; this is a Texas Country band, after all. For that matter, if you don’t like Texas, you probably won’t like this record, because Josh Abbott can’t seem to stop talking about it. After the stream of songs, “Flatland Farmer,” “My Texas” and “Dallas Love,” you’re liable to say to yourself, Enough already. But again, that’s to be expected. No one loves Texas more than a Texan.
But Abbott doesn’t stop there, making it pretty clear that it isn’t just “Texas, yes;” more like, “Texas, yes—Nashville, no.” Never is this more plain than in the Terry Allen cover “Flatland Farmer”: “He’s a flatland farmer who flatpicks an old guitar / He don’t make no money but he can out-pick a Nashville star…..Well, they call that God-almighty Nashville Music City U.S.A. / But get out of the city where the farmers play / And you’re into real music country without them city ways.” And the song “I’ll Sing About Mine” gets even more caustic with a direct reference to a current country hit: “Tractors ain’t sexy, and workin’ is hard / For small town people like me / And the radio is full of rich folks singin’ / ‘Bout places they’ve never seen.” The tirade continues: “When you talk about the Dairy Queen / Pickup trucks and Springsteen / Make the place I love sound like a bad cartoon.”
Not surprisingly, the Josh Abbott Band didn’t make the country radio charts this week.
Okay, so the record isn’t all about love-Texas-hate-Nashville; there are some regular old love songs in there, too, like “Touch” and “She Will Be Free.” And the music itself—it’s really good country music, with creative lyricism, definitely worthy of the charts. Think of it as the sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Apparently, for all of Josh Abbott’s pot-shots at the establishment, he seems to be touching a nerve with country music fans, because record sales themselves are beating the odds. You might not hear this music on the radio (for awhile, at least), but the Josh Abbott Band is getting their down-to-earth message out there.
ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)