Tag Archives: brad paisley

Sound ‘Round: Brad Paisley / Willie Nelson

Blue collar country from red state men

Brad Paisley – Love and War (Arista Nashville)

Of course he’s a cornball. That’s not the issue. It’s a matter of his mawkishness muddling his best intentions. Never again will he be as sentimental as 2009’s American Saturday Night, the only mainstream country album to salute Obama and progressive thought. He’s since been tripped up by ill-conceived ambition and retreads of the very clichés he once defied. This modest return to form ain’t perfect, either. The cranky anti-social media song “selfie#theinternetisforver” is loaded with bad gender politics — as if only women post regrettable content on Instagram. His barbs are put to better use on the title track, a righteous anti-war duet with John Fogerty that suffers forgotten vets from Iraq and Vietnam (and let’s pray not Syria or North Korea). Paisley later shames evangelicals who voted for Trump in droves (like the ones from his native West Virginia) because sometimes the worst things are done in God’s name. These are terrible times, no doubt, which is why he enjoys the little things. “Heaven South” digs iced tea, fishing and fireworks while “Last Time For Everything” recalls prom, marriage and fatherhood in that order. And that’s the prevailing theme here: cherish what you have today and love thy neighbor. Call him an idealist, I call him refreshing. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks:  “Heaven South” / “Love and War” / “Drive of Shame”

Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child (Legacy)

At 84, Nelson’s musical output hasn’t slowed a bit. This is his ninth album in seven years and third in 14 months. But as the tunes keep a-comin’, his once robust lyricism has waned. Last year’s well executed batch of Gershwin covers signaled he was on the verge of creative bankruptcy. Blame it on another year being closer to the grave or the election of Donald Trump (what’s the difference?), but Uncle Willie is reinvigorated here. Seven of these 13 songs are originals co-written with producer Buddy Cannon and are the sharpest of the bunch. “Delete and Fast-Forward” is a perfect summation of the election (if only it were it that easy, Willie), and “Still Not Dead” is an anti-ageist anthem in which Nelson wakes up to yet another fake news story regarding his own demise (“Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”). The six covers get the job done with a little help from his friends. The opening hymn is lifted by Alison Krauss, and the title track features Leon Russell from beyond the grave. The best tribute is reserved for Merle Haggard on the finale in which The Okie from Muskogee is made eternal through music. Credit Nelson for mourning his friend rather than boast of achieving the same goal. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Still Not Dead” / “Delete and Fast-Forward” / “He Won’t Ever Be Gone”

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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”

Sound ‘Round: Brad Paisley / Hank Williams

Playing to the base

Brad Paisley – Moonshine in the Trunk (Arista Nashville)

brad paisley - moonshine in the trunk His good intentions undone by questionable imagery on last year’s “Accidental Racist,” the king of cosmopolitan country calls it quits on the statement-making anthems and returns to his southern comfort zone. Doubling down on his signature cowboy hat and faithful guitar, he ditches the centrist politics that defied Nashville and got him invited to D.C. In their stead are relished tropes he once transcended: alcohol, swimming holes and fast cars. It’s unfortunate if expected. An otherwise genial exercise in bro-country is salvaged, however, by genre-beating humor and wit. “Crushin’ It,” the opener, works as a motto for tailgaters and as an affirmation of Paisley’s perpetual optimism. His half-assed endorsement of Chick-Fil-A a few tracks later may irk some, but it’s no coincidence the auteur refers to a group of patrons as “low lifes.” His fretwork remains potent, his disposition good-natured, and his respect for women is so refreshing, he’ll always have an opening slot reserved on Miranda Lambert’s tour if the hits stop coming. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Moonshine in the Trunk” / “High Life” / “River Bank

Hank Williams – The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 (Omnivore)

hank williams - garden spotStop me if you’ve heard this before: a posthumous release that’s neither revelatory nor essential. These tapes, culled from four appearances on The Garden Spot radio show (“music for the family and the good ol’ fashioned way”), is hampered by useless banter and brief instrumental segues. Only half the track list is comprised of real songs, an excuse to mark up the sticker price. Nonetheless, the godfather of country shines through the marketing tricks. Williams’ voice, a slender drawl, is lively and adaptable, suiting lyrics about stale love, dead mothers, bachelorhood and Jesus. His rhythmic intuition is remarkably exact and propulsive despite the absence of a drum kit. Like every master songwriter before or since, he knew the formula to achieve posterity: Visceral feeling mixed with simple brevity. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Lovesick Blues” / “Jesus Remembered Me” / “Mind Your Own Business”

Sound ‘Round: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba / Brad Paisley

Maestros of the world, for the world.  

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba: Jama Ko (Out Here)

bassekouRecorded in Mali during a military coup which saw the nation’s democratically elected president supplanted by a strict Sharia law which forbids the very hymns Kouyate has made a career from, this is more a love letter to an oppressed people than it is a report from the frontlines. Reflecting the album’s title, which roughly translates to “big gathering of people,” the lyrics (all in a foreign tongue) are celebratory and passionate, praying for peace and tolerance, while the music is refreshingly direct and warm. Each song flows on an intricate web of percussion, and is bolstered by Kouyate’s incomparable skill on the ngoni – an African equivalent to the lute – which he attacks with quick, biting flourishes, subtly speaking to the torment brought into his homeland. Guest vocalist also join in the nonviolent protest, including Zoumana Tereta – who howls wondrously on “Mali Koori,” and Taj Mahal, whose grunts and gravely guitar adds aridness to this Malian’s brand of desert rock. Journalistic, veracious, authentic, inspired, and with malice towards none, this is the only kind of protest album that matters. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Sinlay” / “Mali Koori” / “Jama Ko

Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville)

Brad Paisley - WheelhouseYes, “Accidental Racist” is an ill-conceived, if completely well-meaning, failure. However the real crime against culture isn’t Paisley’s unabashed idealism, but the baseless charge of racial animosity made by those who portray the West Virginian as a good ol’ apologist for the Confederacy. I’d bet my imaginary tractor such buffoons have yet to hear “Camouflage,” where the country vet takes a pot shot at the Stars N’ Bars, or the title track to his 2009 opus American Saturday Night, which not so subtly celebrates the ascendancy of Barack Obama. A class act whose goodwill for humanity knows no bounds, this ninth release follows his recent template of progressive traditionalism; songs about bonfires, beer, church, and fishing sandwiched by tunes that tackle racism, chauvinism and narrow-mindedness. He delivers quintessential Paisley from the get go on the cosmopolitan “Southern Comfort Zone,” which name checks Paris, Rome, The Andy Griffith Show and NASCAR before turning the rebel anthem “Dixie” on its head. He gets witty with “Those Crazy Christians,” praising the unsung missionary while deriding corrupt televangelists, and goes to self-defense class on “Karate,” where domestic abuse is disabused. Yet, for someone who has cranked out some of the best marriage songs of any genre over the last decade, many of the ballads here bemoan a lost love and sag as a result. Funny enough, the best wedding song is cleverly disguised as an elegy. Even on his most inconsistently good album, he still relies on his biggest asset, his humor. Fuck the haters. GRADE: A- 

Key Tracks: Southern Comfort Zone” / “Officially Alive” / “Karate”