There's a lot riding on Brad Paisley's sophomore effort. Since the release of his first album, "Who Needs Pictures," the young West Virginian's topped the country charts, been made a member of the Grand Ole Opry and has won the hearts of traditionalists with a soft-spoken yet insistent dedication to "keeping it country."
Small wonder, then, that expectations are high for "Part II," but it's also no surprise, given Paisley's talents as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, that the new album succeeds in meeting just about every one. Leaning heavily once again on his own writing and on his own band, he serves up 13 solid entries, from the opening "Two Feet Of Topsoil," which takes literally the image of feeling "low," to the closing gospel favorite, "The Old Rugged Cross," recorded live the night Paisley was invited to join the Opry.
The album is short on serious songs - his ballads, "I Wish You'd Stay" and "Part II," and Darrell Scott's story of hardscrabble mountain life, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" pretty much exhaust the list - and strong on hot (but not overbearing) picking and humor, even if a fair amount of it is what Paisley calls "laughter through tears." That may bother country fans who think that country's got to be about a tear in your beer; for the rest of us, though, "Part II" is a winner all the way.