Brad’s third album, released in 2003, saw him cementing his status as a star whose music combined comedy and serious songs, and one who genuinely appreciated country music tradition.
Lead single ‘Celebrity’ is a hilarious and sharp sideswipe at reality TV shows and those chasing fame for the sake of it (and the perks), with Brad playing the talentless wannabe with an irony entirely missed when one of the hapless contestants on the generally woeful final season of Nashville Star covered it on the show:
You can act just like a fool
And people think you’re cool
Just ‘cause you’re on TV
Brad also picked a Chris DuBois/Chris Wallin song which approaches a similar theme from a slightly different angle with the quirky ‘Famous People’, where he plays the part of an ingenuous countryman who brings a visiting movie star down to size a little.
The straight-faced ‘The Cigar Song’ is based on an old joke about a man who successfully claims on the insurance for “losing” some fine Cuban cigars in “a series of small fires”. The insurance company gets the last laugh, though, with a prosecution for various counts of arson. The broadest comedy is reserved for the return of Bill Anderson and George Jones (who featured on ‘Too Country’ on Part II), joined this time by Little Jimmy Dickens on the silly but funny deliberately muddled narration ‘Spaghetti Western Swing’, which also serves as a showcase for guest Redd Volkaert’s electric guitar. I enjoy this track but probably wouldn’t want to listen to it too often.
Second single ‘Little Moments’ was the first in what has become a tradition of Brad Paisley odes to domesticity, reportedly directly inspired by his new wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who also starred in the video. Written by Brad with Chris DuBois, it has some charm with its loping phrasing and heartfelt delivery, and the theme had not yet outworn its welcome. Also in the happy family life vein is ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Like’, written by Wynn Varble and Don Sampson). The latter has an engagingly bouncy production and good humored feel, but is marred by an irritating small-child chorus. The pedestrian ‘That’s Life’ appears to be meant to be amusing, but falls flat (with comedians Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi unimpressive on unrecognisable backing “yeah yeah yeahs” and occasional yelled interjections). Only Frank Rogers’ inventive production saves these songs.
The exquisitely sad duet with Alison Krauss, ‘Whiskey Lullaby’, one of the few outside songs included here, was the third single. It was a wise decision to record this Bill Anderson/Jon Randall song, which has become a modern classic and may be the song for which Brad is best remembered a generation hence. The single itself has sold a million copies, and won various awards. It tells the story of a man whose failed marriage leads him into a life destroyed by alcohol and eventual death; then the woman who left him is overwhelmed by guilt and grief and also uses whiskey as her mode of self-destruction. The acoustic instrumentation is bolstered by Krauss on viola, Jerry Douglas’s dobro, and Union Station’s Dan Tyminski on backing vocals.
The first three songs were all big hits, but none reached the top of the Billboard singles chart, all peaking at # 2 or 3. The only chart-topper from the album was to be the title track (another Chris DuBois cowrite), to my ears the least interesting of the four, but a very popular single which was certified gold.
Much better is the restrained tenderness of the love song ‘Somebody Knows You Now’, which strains Brad’s voice to the limit, only adding to the authenticity of the emotion. I also like the traditional-meets contemporary feel of of ‘Hold Me In Your Arms (And Let Me Fall)’, addressed to a girl who is reluctant to date the protagonist. Vince Gill lends harmony support.
There is a subdued cover of Vern Gosdin’s agonized classic ‘Is It Raining At Your House’ (written by Gosdin with Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon). Brad is not in Vern’s league as a vocalist, but his reined-in reading of the song works well on its own merits. Jerry Salley and Chris Stapleton wrote ‘The Best Thing That I Had Goin’, another fine song which suits the Paisley style, with a mainly acoustic production featuring Ron Block on banjo and Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Brad himself playing mandolin as well as his usual acoustic and electric guitars. He laments the time he has spent at work in order to buy his wife’s affection, realizing,
Now I know all the things that she wanted were free
Brad included his trademark instrumental track (‘Make A Mistake With Me’), this time with a short sung intro, and this is one of my favourite of Brad’s instrumentals. There is also a sincere version of the traditional spiritual number ‘Farther Along’, with Vince Gill joining the backing singers.
Frank Rogers did his usual great job with the production, and musically this all sounds fantastic – inventive yet genuinely rooted in country. But while this record has some great tracks (and is well worth getting hold of), there are also the first signs of a softening of Brad’s artistic vision with the arrival of domestic happiness.