Attention Ann Arbor academics, information technology professionals, environmental activists, vegans, proteomics researchers, silversmiths, and art historians: you don't have to pretend anymore. Your secret love of gut-stomping, twanging, Dee-troit-flavored country music need hide in the dark no longer. You love country music, and it's okay. When the Forbes Brothers take the stage at the Ark, you will be in a Safe Place with others of your kind.

I'd been hearing about these guys forever. They've been snatching up all manner of plaques and valuable certificates (twenty-three — I counted) at the Detroit Music Awards for over a decade. They've shared the stage with such top national acts as Diamond Rio, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Lee Ann Womack, Lonestar, the Kentucky Headhunters, Trace Adkins, and many others. They have recorded with Earl Klugh, Mitch Ryder, longtime Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey, and Kid Rock protégés the Howlin' Diablos. When a friend showed me their brand-new CD, The Wrong End of the Bar, I had no trouble permanently borrowing it.

Here are twelve good, solid country songs, seasoned with musical influences — rock, rap, and soul — that flow freely through both the air and the airwaves of Motown. Scott and Dennis Forbes are solid songwriters, well schooled in classic country song forms and the ubiquitous rules regarding soaring choruses achieved within 45.6 seconds. The album kicks off with "Opening Act," a good-naturedly sardonic paean to the thankless but ultimately necessary duties of all semi-ignored openers. It's all there in its backstage glory: the glimpses of the headliner, the wristbands that prove you really do belong on the stage, the friends and their loyalty. But the Forbes Brothers can, and do, dig a lot deeper, in songs like the funky, mostly spoken "Last Lost Highway." More than a few country songs start off with railroad tracks, and "The Difference" is one of them, but this one quickly sets itself apart, taking the listener from Salerno to Corsica to "a beach called Omaha," with a heartfelt message to the soldiers of World War II — to all soldiers, really.

A recent Free Press review of this album says that the songwriting "rivals — even surpasses — much of what's coming out of mainstream Nashville nowadays." I'm inclined to agree, although, as everyone knows by now, that has little to do with success in this airbrushed era of Nashvegas music, when each twang must be perfectly equalized and every singer picture-perfect and preferably adolescent. But there's a place for a band like the Forbes Brothers — in the bars and festivals of their home state, beloved by their legions of fans, who know all the words and sing along. This seven-piece band rarely ventures to our town (I wonder why), but it'll be at the Ark on Thursday, August 12. You're more than welcome to grab a beer and try out the band's most undeniably hooky tune:

Hip-hop, country-rock, blue-eyed soul, and rock 'n' roll:
Mix it with the blues, and I'll meet you at the crossroads.

Come on, Ann Arbor, you know you want to.