Sound ‘Round: Brad Paisley / OutKast

American classics for your Independence Day playlist 

Brad Paisley – American Saturday Night (Arista Nashville, 2009)

Brad Paisley -- American Saturday Night

The millennium’s best country album earns its status because it appeases the Nashville machine while transcending country radio archetypes. It also succeeds because the auteur is gracious, funny and smart enough to match his genre-busting ambition. Paisley sets the egalitarian tone on the opening title track, flipping the script on patriotic flag-toting to toast American multiculturalism at the fair — Italian ice, German cars, margaritas and The Beatles included. He does one better on “Welcome to the Future,” ditching his trusty guitar for a synth hook before ending with a verse that decries racism to celebrate the election of Obama — making the rise of Trump even more tragic. After lauding a U.S. of A. that’s less progressive than Paisley knows he imagines it to be, it’s onto a set of marriage ballads remarkable for their emotional heft. “Then” concerns an elated love without irony or cheese, and the finale proper knows true romance is doing the little things (like scratching her back in places she can’t reach). In the meantime, there’s a letter to his son, a wife who is her own woman, lessons from grandpa about God and a day on the lake. Paisley wants everyone to not just hear this album, but relate to it in some way. Me too. GRADE: A+

Key Tracks: “Welcome to the Future” / “Then” / “American Saturday Night”

OutKast – Stankonia (LaFace / Arista, 2000)

outkast - stankoniaThis magnum opus of southern comfort began a three year run of unquestioned brilliance. Though differing artistic visions caused their slow goodbye, here their musical disparities draw them closer than ever. Big Boi’s infatuation with crisp, punishing beats helps tether Andre 3000 to reality, and Dre’s disregard for hip-hop formalities provides room for Big to display his underrated versatility. So self-assured and jocular, the hellfire of the opening “Gasoline Dreams” seems like a mere genre exercise when followed by the unbeatable swagger of “So Fresh, So Clean.” From there, it’s nearly an hour long display of veteran showmanship and real talk. The rhymes never drop an ounce of potency regardless of the subject matter — parenthood, teen pregnancy, staying clean on a dirty street or contempt for a government that criminalizes black skin. There’s darkness on the edge of town at Spaghetti Junction, but they nonetheless find grace in urbanity (“Slum Beautiful”) and stay strong in the face of adversity (“Humble Mumble”). Rather than succumb to the drugs-money-hoes conceit paraded by so many others, they instead steamroll through many of hip-hop’s preconceived notions. When the guitar solo (!) hits on “B.O.B.,” it sounds like the birth of a new constellation. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “B.O.B.” / “Miss Jackson” / “So Fresh, So Clean”

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