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Brad Paisley sticks to his country guns

Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, N.H., September 25, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Brad Paisley sticks to his guns when it comes to his style of country music. Unlike so so many of his equally successful peers, there is a lack of country music in the country music. It's more like blaring guitars, drums blasting and what's a pedal steel?

Not with Paisley. That's been true of his recordings from "Who Needs Pictures?" on where he even includes instrumentals and gospel tunes. And he does the same exact thing in concert.

Paisley made that clear from the start with Mud on the Tires where his twangy guitar playing was featured on the fast-paced number. Here, like on other songs during the 105-minute show, Paisley let his band play a role with a lot of pedal steel and banjo.

Paisley's guitar skills are well documented, and time and again, he brought them to the fore. He's not showy with big moves, just some fast moving fingers on whatever guitar he's holding. That also led to a few instrumentals played back-to-back (how often do you ever see that in a country show any more?).

What Paisley also has is a bunch of solid songs ranging from love songs like the percolating You Are the World and the honky tonk of Wrapped Around Your Finger to the humorous Mr. Policeman and the closing song of the regular set Alcohol, which is funny, but at some level poignant as well, to the touching with When We All Get to Heaven.

Paisley sometimes comes close to going overboard with the humor, but he keeps the novelty tunes in check just enough to avoid the dreaded novelty act status. But the bottom line is that he wants people to have a good time and delivers the goods to make it so. He did the usual trick of telling people they didn't have to go to work or school tomorrow, but at least he got topical - "With the economy the way it is, you may not have a job anyway."

And his staging was very good with very good use of an ultra-clear backing screen with a story line of some sort often working in tandem with the song.

However, Paisley sometimes relied on it a bit too much. On his jocular, tongue-in-cheek Celebrity, Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson were depicted on either side of the screen playing guitar. Later, Taylor Swift was playing as well. BB King showed up on the video screen on Let the Good Times Roll, the only new song played by Paisley from his forthcoming "Play." There was interplay between Paisley and King, but it's a little hard for sparks to fly when King and Lucille weren't there in person. On the incredibly haunting Whiskey Lullaby, about drinking oneself to death, Alison Krauss showed up on the screen also. Too bad she wasn't there in person, of course, but it was overkill to repeat the device.

Paisley remains a leading torch carrier for traditional country music today. That will come through once again on "Play," where he takes some chances with a bunch of instrumentals. Avoiding the tried-and-true on CD and in concert makes a night with Paisley a lot of fun.

Jewel is one of the latest singers to go from pop to country. She sure sings really well with a fully developed device from a diminutive figure. Her voice really does fill the arena, due no doubt to her years of experience. She actually does have a country feel to her music unlike some poseurs, though she would never be labeled as hard-core country. Standing Still? came off particularly well. Jewel also came out to sing a song with Paisley during his set, sounding good together.

Chuck Wicks opened the show with your basic generic set of pop and rock songs masquerading as country. He's been fortunate enough to have two hits with Stealing Cinderella and the current All I Ever Wanted, but there was nothing particularly special about Wicks either as a singer or performer. He worked the stage sufficiently, making sure to smack all hands extended to him, and is good looking, but that doesn't make for a country singer.