I used to like Brad Paisley. He was a listenable rather than great vocalist, but a fine songwriter and brilliant guitarist, with a keen appreciation of country music traditions, capable of both comedy and teaching the heart. Somewhere along the way that Brad got lost. Each of his past few records has been less inspired than the last. Last year’s Wheelhouse was a confused mixture of well-meaning but hamhanded lyrics and ill-judged sonic experiments, which failed to appeal to Brad’s fans and is understandably his poorest selling record to date. Radio play has also been a little disappointing by his own standards; he hasn’t had a #1 in three years, although to be fair it’s not as if they’ve picked better material in his place.
‘Crushin’ It’ opens the album with some annoying shouted “heys”, and is a rather boring and slightly over produced song about weekend partying, but at least has some nuance by balancing it against a mundane weekday working reality. Brad’s vocals, however, are quite rudimentary, more spoken than sung, and the whole thing sounds amateurish. The lead single ‘River Bank’ (which topped out at #2) lacks melody and vocal prowess to an even greater degree and has similar annoying backing “vocals”.
The title track is loud and designed to appeal to the bro-country fans, although the guitar playing is showily impressive. ‘Limes’, another drinking song, is a fair song but shouty. Is it not possible to convey having a good time without yelling? I might suggest it’s a realistic depiction of obnoxious drunkenness, but I don’t believe the song is that self-aware.
Current single ‘Perfect Storm’ would be a pleasant little love song typical of Paisley, and his vocal is heartfelt, but the track has some irritating woo woo sound effects and an intrusive electric guitar choking it to death.
‘High Life’ is also cluttered with far too much going on, but it does have a country melody underneath. It is quite an entertaining story song, about a family who sue anyone they can on tenuous grounds, hoping to get money to go away. Carrie Underwood sings backing vocals and contributes a spoken cameo as herself (the protagonist sues her for an unfounded case of plagiarism). It’s one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album, although a more restrained production would have made this a real highlight instead of one by default. The story is made for a video, so this could well be a single at some point.
‘4WP’ is somehow surprisingly likeable despite the cliche’d bro-country lyric. Perhaps it’s because Brad is not taking his girl for granted as most songs of this ilk do, but also the production and arrangement are interesting.
‘Shattered Glass’ is one of Brad’s well-meaning attempts to be meaningful, applauding women reaching for success. On the plus side, the production is understated and tasteful, but I feel I should like this more than I do. Unfortunately the laudable message is undermined by the utterly patronising ‘You Shouldn’t Have To’; the melody of the latter is also rather dull. ‘Cover Girl’ is bearable but boring.
‘American Flag On The Moon’ is introduced with a clip of John F Kennedy announcing the space program; quite a thoughtful look at America’s history of exploration and encouraging the country to be ambitious in its outlook. The melody isn’t a very country one, and there’s the dreaded child chorus, but it’s a pretty decent song.
‘Country Nation’ is a smug complacent endorsement of country radio’s reach. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a single
Brad wrote or co-wrote almost everything here. The best songs, however, are the two brought in from outside. ‘Gone Green’, written by Kenny Lewis, is almost the best song here, with its story of a redneck making changes in his life to adopt environmentally friendly products. The arrangement is charming and pure country, with Emmylou Harris singing a pretty harmony vocal. Best of all, an acoustic cover of Tom T Hall’s gospel tune ‘Me And Jesus’ reminds me of the old Brad.
I don’t know if this album will arrest Brad’s commercial decline. It’s certainly better than his last album – but that’s not saying much.