Paisley’s at the top of his game – but he’s capable of better than this.
Nick Barraclough 2011
Bit presumptuous, that title; but if anyone can use it, the current Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year can. And there’s nothing on this album, Paisley’s ninth, that isn’t fully representative of today’s country music. As the opening title-track says, "You’re not supposed to sing about… cancer… Jesus… tractors… little towns… momma… But this is country music, and we do." And he does.
Any country fan will tell you that it works, that you can’t beat a few too many beers, and George Jones or Merle Haggard on the jukebox. The trouble with this is being told you’ve got to enjoy it. This is Country Music plays as if a jaded exec in the record company’s office, convinced a big idea was needed for Brad’s new one, suggested a tribute to, um, country music; and the rest around the table agreed just so they could get home. There are already too many ‘good old country music’ songs; we don’t need any more.
Set that gripe aside and this set is standard… no, above-standard Paisley fare. He’s co-written most of the songs. It might have been better if he hadn’t, as there are greater writers out there who need the work, but he’s infused his usual good humour into a few of these numbers. He mixes an appropriate amount of sentimentality with a few laughs and good southern blokeishness. He teams up with a couple of notable guests: Carrie Underwood, a bit squeaky on Remind Me, and Clint Eastwood, who appears playing a whistle on the curious instrumental Eastwood, sort of a Western movie soundtrack pastiche. The album culminates in a fine, if a tad over-worked, version of the traditional gospel song, Life’s Railway to Heaven, featuring vocals from Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson.
But what sets this album so far out from the rest of the modern country pack is Paisley’s unbelievable guitar-playing. He writes okay, he sings really well, he has the music in his soul; but he plays the guitar like he’s from another world. Some may find that the exuberance of his technique occasionally overwhelms his songs, but it’s worth it for the sheer ingenuity he injects into it.
Brad Paisley’s at the top of the heap now. But to hear what he’d do if he wasn’t bound by the rules laid down on Music Row would be something special, as he’s got so much more to offer.