I’ve always felt Brad Paisley is at his West Virginian best when picking along on old Gospel tunes. And he has always ensured to include at least one Gospel song on each album. On new album This is Country Music his cover of “Life’s Railway to Heaven” is compelling and well-done, with great backup vocals blending with simple traditional instrumentation. Brad’s addition at the end of “Life’s Railway to Heaven” advises “So turn it on/ Turn it up/ And sing along,” borrowing nicely from the chorus lyrics of title track “This is Country Music” and wittily superseding his own observation in the same song that “Tellin’ people Jesus is the answer/ Can rub ’em wrong.”
This theme runs into very strong writing throughout the album that explores the relationship between the divine and human on a deeper level. This includes Brad’s biting rebuke to a hellfire-and-damnation preacher in “A Man Don’t Have to Die.” Listing off a series of ills and empty dead-ends that people go down in life Brad opines that “a man don’t have to die to go to hell/ So tell us ’bout them angels/ how they fly around and sing/” emphasizing the need for messages of redemption and beauty, rather than condemnation.
Brad is a great guitarist. I’ve seen him live, and unlike some new artists, he doesn’t just sling a guitar across his back and call it a performance. Brad can actually play and he can play really damn well. He is also probably the strongest songwriter in Nashville today. His writing credits appear on 13 out of the 15 tracks on This is Country Music. The only songs Brad didn’t co-write here are the traditional “Life’s Railway to Heaven” and “A Man Don’t Have to Die,” written by Rivers Rutherford, George Teren and Josh Thompson. Much of the writing was done with Brad’s frequent co-writer Chris DuBois, also an exceptionally-talented songwriter.
“Old Alabama” (feat. Alabama) has been criticized by some for being overly-derivative and unoriginal, borrowing as it does, many lyrics from old Alabama songs. However it is a catchy and great party tune that shows Brad’s masterful ability to tune into his youthful demographic of listeners while keeping his older audience equally engaged with music from a band that used to be the height of country music. Also it is co-written by Randy Owen of Alabama, so it clearly has the Alabama stamp of approval!
“Camoflauge” is a fun tune that, while not exceptional, brings back to mind the fun of Brad’s older work, even reminding me of the exuberant melodics and instrumentation of songs like “I’m Gonna Miss Her” and “Me Neither.” “You can blend in in the country/ You can stand out in the fashion world/ Be invisible to a white-tail/ Irresistible to a redneck girl.” [cue cheering girls]. The end riffs on “Dixieland” in a way that, while clearly a bit exploitative of the rural confederate flag “type” is infused with enough self-conscious semi-parody to avoid being offensive and also handily avoid political over-correctness. Plus earlier lyrics even admit that Brad can see why “the stars and bars may offend some.”
Duet with Carrie Underwood “Remind Me” is one of the weaker songs on the album, (and as the weakest song it is still stronger than most of what is coming out on other albums lately) despite strong vocal performances, its standard-fare lyrics and weak hook of…you guessed it “remind me,” gets stale rather quickly.
“Working on a Tan” is a brilliant throwback to old-fashioned surf music, perfect for summer with its groovy instrumentals and vocals “Soakin’ up the sun/ gettin’ next to nothin’ done/ There’s a term paper due/ In a week or two/ Oh, but she don’t give a damn/ She’s working on a tan.” Brad goes on to elaborate, telling how “All the Kappa Sigma boys/ Been lifting weights/ Hittin’ that gym drinkin’ protein shakes/ They got a cooler full of beer/ And it’s loaded in the jeep/ Why you think they’re going to the beach?….” ’cause she’s working on a tan!” a humorous paean to female beauty and summer beach life.
“Love Her Like She’s Leavin” (feat. Don Henley) is a nice little ballad of advice on how to make a relationship last. Paisley does these songs well, extending his chorus lines with the syrupy conviction (“love her like she’s leavinnnnn/ and I guarantee she won’t”) that made hits out of songs like “Then.”
“One of Those Lives” written by Paisley, Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller is a solid count-your-blessings tune, kind of an up-tempo “Hello World” that packs a walloping punch. “I’ve got no right to complain I guess/ ‘Cause right now all I can see/ Is a little angel in a Yankees cap/ It makes me realize/ It’s just been one of those days for me/ But for him it’s been one of those lives.” This kind of writing and subject matter is also a bit of a return to Brad’s style on his earlier albums, and it is very well-chosen. What could be corny if done by another performer is everything it should be here.
“Toothbrush” echoes the track “Ain’t Nothin’ Like” from Brad’s 2003 album Mud on the Tires. Cataloguing the mechanics of a growing relationship and the objects associated with its progress this is a cutesy little tune that will also go over really well with Brad’s fan-base.
Banjo-infused “Be the Lake,” rolls along at a rollicking rhythm echoing the sentiments of “Working on a Tan” and earlier work on the song “Ticks.” Brad is pretty straightforward here, with a kind of simply-said caveman poetry: “Wish I could be the lake/ that you’re swimming in.”
“Eastwood” (Feat. Clint Eastwood) is hilarious. “You want Western?”asks Clint. “This is Western.” A grandiose, creative exploration beyond the limits of the Western movie soundtrack follows.
“New Favorite Memory” is a nice little nod to married life of the kind that Brad’s gotten so good at putting together.
“Don’t Drink the Water” (feat. Blake Shelton) – here Brad teams up with Twitter funnyman Blake on a song about getting drunk in tropical places. It goes down a little rough, however, by somewhat arrogantly using poor infrastructure in developing countries only as the basis for a joke about getting drunk. “I ain’t goin’ down to Mexico/ to drink the water anyway.” It is also fairly derivative, borrowing directly from “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” Brad: “Blake ain’t you been there before?” Blake: “Yeah, I been there a time or two.”
“I Do Now,” is a good old heartbreak song that is well sung, although not overly-original.
This is a good album. Brad is back to his old greatness, that seemed to be getting obscured in some of his recent albums with their overproduction and pop-suffused blandness.
Despite a few standard fare tracks like “Remind Me,” “Don’t Drink the Water” and “New Favorite Memory,” the album is really good.
I would go so far as to say this is country music at its best.