The album’s comically manipulative title was no accident. “This is my only chance to make people say something,” Bones explains. “I though, well, maybe nobody will actually give us five stars, but people will have to say that’s the name of the record, and some people might get confused and think the critics are giving it five stars and it’s excellent, so they’ll just stumble into buying it. Let’s hope people accidentally mistake the album title for a real review.”
The project is packed with collaborations with A-list country stars including Underwood, Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. Garth Brooks provides un-credited background vocals on one track, although he is thanked in the set’s liner notes. Ballerini also lends her vocals to a track, as does Lindsay Ell, who previously appeared on the Kidiots EP. But the contributions from country stars don’t stop at the microphone. Some of Nashville’s top songwriters also helped compose the tracks, including such writer/artists as Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and Thompson Square’s Keifer Thompson. Bryan does not appear on the album, but is impersonated by a spot-on Garcia.
While Bones has developed great relationships with many artists through his award-winning radio show, he didn’t expect to land all the guest stars he eventually did. “I would ask and expect ‘no’ every single time,” he admits. “We got really lucky that a lot of these people are just fun, cool people that don’t take themselves too seriously. And nobody really said no.
“I’ve never seen a human sing like Carrie Underwood,” he continues. “So when she first sang ‘peeing on a toilet seat’ I laughed out loud, like ‘What life is this?’ That’s what I ask myself. I write these stupid songs, and then Carrie Underwood is here singing about a dude peeing on a toilet seat. It’s for real and it shouldn’t be happening. [That’s] not lost on me.”
Bones jokes about his own limited songwriting abilities, and says working with some of Nashville’s hit writers elevated his game. “I can write little dopey songs, but to watch … whoever I was working with actually sit there and craft out what they do, it was really an experience and a learning tool for me … I’m a comedy writer and I write scripts and do standup,” he adds. “But if I ever consider myself a songwriter, I think it’s an insult to the guys that are really, really good at it.”
He’s equally frank and self-deprecating about his vocal abilities -- even the band’s own bio humorously refers to its “questionable musicianship.” Asked if he envisioned one day having a record deal when he formed the first incarnation of the Raging Idiots in high school, Bones quickly responds “I didn’t envision having a record deal a year ago.”
“I’m not going to win male vocalist of the year at the CMA [Awards],” he says with a laugh. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the nomination will probably escape me this year. If I were to call myself a singer I think it would be insulting to real singers everywhere. I know where my lane is … So I’m not doing any runs on the record. I’ll leave that for Carrie.”
The album’s most unexpected moment comes in the form of its one serious song, “Fishin’ With My Dad,” a poignant, autobiographical song Bones wrote with songwriters David Lee and Wynn Varble. At first, Bones thought the track was both too personal and too serious to include, but Black River CEO Gordon Kerr encouraged him to give it a try. “Gordon said, ‘If you could sing it with anyone who would you have,’ and I threw out my favorite [artist] of all time, Garth Brooks.” Bones still finds the song hard to listen to, only now it’s not just because it hits close to home, but also because “my hero of music is singing along with me.”
While the collaboration with Underwood, “We Can’t Stand Each Other,” is considerably more lighthearted, it supports a serious cause. A portion of the track’s proceeds will be donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a charity Bones has strongly supported.
For Black River senior director of marketing Tanya Welch, having a project like The Critics Give It 5 Stars to work is “a dream come true” because “there aren’t a lot of rules” in working a comedy project. “We don’t have to color within any lines,” she says. “Given the nature of the tracks we can be a little more irreverent in our approach.”
There’s also a built-in fan base from The Bobby Bones Show to market to. “Bobby and Eddie have a daily audience that they speak to on air, and online as well,” says Welch. “So we’ve got a pretty aggressive social strategy in terms of content and rollout leading up to the record … That authenticity and that honesty that works so well on the show completely translates to the music.”
While they are tied to Nashville Monday through Friday as a result of their radio show, the Raging Idiots travel the country to perform their music most weekends, and will continue to do so in support of the album. A video has already been released for one track, “If I Was Your Boyfriend,” and another has been shot for a second emphasis track titled “Starbucks.” That video will feature puppet versions of Bones and Garcia, as well as the men themselves.
Says Welch, who was on set for the video shoot that ran overtime, “I will tell you puppets don’t take direction near as well as live talent. We found that out.”