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Brad Paisley

Wheelhouse – 2013 (Arista)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley isn't content to keep doing the same old. In fact, this is probably the least traditional country outing in his career. Yet, a few things remain intact - great guitar playing and singing and a sense of humor without being too kitschy.

In fact, Paisley manages to combine the ultra serious with his typical sense of humor. The seriousness is never more apparent from Paisley than on the controversial Accidental Racist with LL Cool J, who helped write and perform it. Paisley explored racial issues 2 albums ago with Welcome to the Future in 2009. He's not done and makes that quite clear here on a track that at times strays far from country.

Paisley takes a mid-tempo approach explaining the view of a Southern man (he's actually from West Virginia): "Our generation didn't start this nation/We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday/And caught between southern pride and southern blame."

LL Cool J takes over, mid-way through offering a different perspective, saying white folks don't understand. "Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood/What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood/Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good/You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would."

Paisley and LL don't offer specific solutions. Instead, their words are more a plea for understanding each other and leaving presumptions behind.

The song is bookended with the first single, Southern Comfort Zone where Paisley sings of leaving behind the comfort of the south to see how live is lived elsewhere. This is a breath of fresh air from the usual southern chest beating, jingoistic, anti-northern songs out there from the country crowd.

Paisley also takes a questioning, perhaps cynical, view on people who overdo it when it comes to religion on Those Crazy Christians, while acknowledging that he's "a poor lost soul" and "If I ever really need help, well you know who I'd call/Is those crazy Christians."

As for the humorous, there's Harvey Bodine. The song is about a man, who died after a bad marriage, but only for five minutes until he's revived. Sounds black, and it is - black humor that is. Paisley has fun with it in sharp contrast to the racial material where it's quite clear he's a man who thinks about politics and life.

In fact, there's a lot of songs about real life and death here - the death of a relationship in Tin Can on a String and songs titled Death of a Married Man (all 47 seconds of it) with a cello and strings intro and Eric Idol of Python fame handling the "vocals" and Death of a Single Man. The latter is a mid-tempo, spare, jazzy Texas swing sound with funny lyrics (of course) like "Nothing says it's over man/Like a bad 80's cover band/How can we dance to My Sharona/At the death of a single man." He wraps the non-deluxe disc with Officially Alive about living life where Paisley sings and writes "It's a tragedy to go through history and simply just exist."

Paisley always has enjoyed the twist of a lyric from his very first excellent album "Who Needs Pictures?" back in 1999. In Karate, Paisley sings "A hundred bucks says tomorrow night/She's got a brand new belt that's gonna match his eye."

Paisley produced, helped write all but the short intro song, often with Kelley Lovelace and Chris DuBois. Paisley may be hitting middle age - he turned 40 in October - but he is not necessarily aging quietly. Paisley maintains his wit and wisdom as he pursues his views on society.