Country is as country does. It’s self-evident. And it’s common when someone has to tell you how country they are that they’re not that country at all, including, if not especially, in country music.
Texas-based country performer Paul Cauthen is supposedly putting this country music trend of telling people how country you are on blast in his new song “Country As Fuck.” But like certain other parody songs, it’s guilty of the same crime it’s supposedly criticizing, while sliding into Cauthen’s song catalog that continues to amass trashy, derivative, though admittedly infectious and entertaining songs that appeal to the least common denominator and widest possible audience, similar to Cauthen’s counterparts in mainstream country.
A few months ago I caused a kerfuffle when I saw Mr. Cauthen perform at Under The Big Sky Fest and observed, “You’d be a fool to not notice how Cauthen had the crowd in his hands the entire time. Few turned in a more rousing set. You just wish he’d work towards being more of an artist than an act, and reel in the voice and mature.”
Similar opinions had been shared about Paul Cauthen’s records in the past as well, but this time Cody Jinks and Ward Davis publicly caught wind of the take and came to Cauthen’s defense, and later Paul Cauthen himself chimed in, making ambiguous threats about what might happen if I was caught in the crowd of one of his shows.
But as “Country As Fuck” proves, the assessment of Paul Cauthen’s music was patently correct. I get it, Cody Jinks and Ward Davis are buds with Paul Cauthen, so they stick up for him. It’s a sign of character. But I’m a critic, and sometimes it’s the job of a critic to say the critical, unpopular things. If everything was roses all the time, what sort of credibility would there be behind that praise?
“Country As Fuck” is not country, and not very good. It’s once again a blustery tune from Paul Cauthen with a hip-hop attitude and cadence, and little to no substance behind the catchy grooves. As Steve Earle once said, it’s “Hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people.” Now don’t worry, I understand there is sarcasm at play here. That is why this song doesn’t deserve the full raspberry treatment. And you have to admit that for what it is, it’s done well. Paul Cauthen bares his id uninhibited in this song and video, and leans into the caricature he’s become over the last couple of years. The question is if any of this is good for independent country, or Paul Cauthen?
A few years ago Luke Bryan said in an in interview that when he plays songs live, he assesses the crowd’s reaction, and whatever songs the crowd reacts to the most, those are the ones he emphasizes and records more of. That’s what Paul Cauthen is doing with “Country As Fuck.” Songs like “Cocaine Country Dancing” and “Saddle” that are little more than one billowy chorus have become Cauthen’s calling card, and “Country As Fuck” will slide right into line as one of his crowd pleasers.
Artists challenge their audiences, and get them to enjoy music that on the surface would not appeal to the masses by reshaping paradigms. Entertainers give into their audiences, and feed them the red meat they scream for, succumbing to the crowd’s carnal and insipid desires. Again, you can’t discount the entertainment value and cleverness Paul Cauthen brings. But to act like he’s holding Bro-Country’s feet to the fire with this track is to turn a blind eye to the rest of Cauthen’s catalog that includes numerous other vapid songs in the same vein as “Country As Fuck.”
Cauthen talks about Kenny Chesney in “Country As Fuck” saying “Real cowboys don’t rock to Kenny Chеsney.” But go listen to Kenny’s recent album Songs for the Saints. He covers John Baumann’s “Gulf Moon.” There’s a great song on there called “Better Boat.” Chesney’s covered Guy Clark, and other great songwriters in the past.
Meanwhile, it’s a guy like Paul Cauthen who is overshadowing folks like John Baumann with his over-the-top pop-style schtick, or Ward Davis, who won Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in 2020. That’s why critics are still important in 2021. That’s also why it’s important for critics to still exercise their role in the music medium. Because quality stuff tends to get overlooked and overshadowed by the big attention-seeking pop acts, including (apparently), in independent country now.
With a song like “Country As Fuck,” Paul Cauthen gives a critic no other choice but to be critical. Otherwise, you’d be a hypocrite. If you’re going to lash out at Morgan Wallen’s “Country A$$ Shit,” you also have to say something about “Country As Fuck,” including pointing out that the Morgan Wallen track is actually more country.
Paul Cauthen will be just fine whether the critics praise him or not. His fans are here for the party, and he brings it with “Country As Fuck.” And it’s likely his new album Country Coming Down due out on April 1st, 2022 will have some better quality songs on it. But I won’t apologize for wanting more from Paul Cauthen, for believing in him as an artist and not just as an entertainer, and wanting better songs representing the independent country space. We’re better than this. Paul Cauthen is better than this. He’s proven in the past that he can write a good song, and find something deeper than surface appeal. But that’s not on display with “Country As Fuck.”
1 1/2 Guns Down (3/10)