Prime: American Flag on the Moon, Perfect Storm, 4WP
Brad Paisley's wheelhouse, to borrow his own vocabulary, is that he is a consummate entertainer able to don various hats with snugness. On one hand, he is a highly observant telecaster who has the sharpness of eye to give witty and often piercing readings of the kerfuffle of social phenomena. And he did this to perfect on his 2007's hit "Online." A satirical assault of the frivolity of Internet dating, "Online" is couched in a wry story of a mild asthmatic, sci-fi geek who works at the local Pizza hut while still living with his parents trying to pass himself off as the next Justin Bieber online. This song will get you laughing so hard that you'll fall off the edge of your seat. On the other hand, Paisley can also be one of the most eloquent poets who has that uncanny ability to do rungs across our hearts with stories so touching that we need a box of Kleenex nearby. Remember his 1995 ballad "He Didn't Have to Be"? Inspired by his own experience growing up in a single-mother home, "He Didn't Have to Be" brings us into the complexities of emotions every child feels when mum starts dating again. And when his new dad turned out to be everything a child ever wanted in a father, the emotions are so palatably moving that the song is a comfort to all our father-hungry hearts.
However, as fame burgeons and as Paisley kept getting himself busy in huge arena-type tours, these two deadly combinations blunt off his edge as a stellar reader of life. And this is most reflective in Paisley's struggle to place a #1 hit on the country chart in the past few years. In fact, one has to go way back to 2011's "Remind Me" to find Paisley's last top charter. His last album "Wheelhouse" not only didn't create a top 5 single, but it was the first time since "Play" where a Brad Paisley album did not sell over 500,000 copies in the US. Looks like the winds of fortune are not about to change with "Moonshine in the Trunk" either. The lead single "River Bank" is arguably Paisley worst lead single to come off a new album. Not that "River Bank" is a bad song, it is just that it's a bro-country song that deals with inner tubes and bikinis the same way Chris Young, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Chase Rice are already doing.
"Crushin' It," the album's sophomore single, is not going to lift "the dry spell" (that he talks about in the song) either. The Stones-steeped guitar and the literal crushing of beer cans cannot save this song out of its vanilla theme of partying at the end of the week. After all the partying songs (a la "Bartender" by Lady Antebellum and "That's My Kind of Night" by Luke Bryan), do we seriously need another beer can crushing song? This is not to say that Paisley has completely lost it. When Paisley sings "she destroys me in the T-shirt" in the ballad "Perfect Storm" he smashes all our preconceptions on what a romantic song sounds like. And equally potent is "American Flag on the Moon." Inspired by his son's fascination about human's ability to encamp on the moon, "American Flag on the Moon" is an inspirational ode about not resting on our laurels but having dreams bigger than what we can ever image.
Just as Alabama and Dolly Parton experienced resurgences in their careers when they sang with Paisley, here the iconic Emmylou Harris is about to see her name returning back to the country chart with "Gone Green." Paisley allows the prankster in him to bear his head on this Kenny Lewis' penned song about how a redneck has decided to be go all the way to be environmentally friendly. Also, in for some great laughs is Paisley and Carrie Underwood's "High Life;" a tale about how a bunch of "low lives" started living the high life after receiving a huge inheritance at the passing of dear ole granddad. Other than the intruding sounding electric guitar riffs throughout the song, "4WP" finds Paisley returning to simplicity of country pleasures in what is a rustic sounding romantic burner.
If only Paisley would not try so hard to be accepted into the "bro-country fraternity," he is still Music Row's smartest and sharpest writers around. His songs will get you laughing, thinking in fresh and intriguing ways.
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