Brad Paisley’s latest album Wheelhouse - his tenth since 1999 – shows listeners the talented country singer isn’t interested in staying in one musical place, but instead continuing to steer his career toward meatier material that challenges Paisley as an artist and songwriter.
Brownie points for his being able to keep his fans entertained in the process.
For newbies to Paisley’s music, Wheelhouse is a great intro, the record perhaps the most diverse and pop-based of his career. After its nineteen-second intro “Bon Voyage,” Wheelhouse kicks into high-gear with the album’s first single “Southern Comfort Zone,” a tune sharing Paisley’s love for the Deep South. With crystal-clear precision, Paisley sings about everything from the Eiffel Tower to Billy Graham to Tennessee fireflies. He’s a Southern boy touring the world, appreciative of the opportunity but always in touch with his roots.
With its mandolins, syncopated sass and anthemic backing vocals, second single “Beat This Summer” makes for a memorable aural ride, even if it re-hashes the age-old tale of bittersweet summer love.
An interesting standout, “Accidental Race” sees Paisley team up with lyricist LL Cool J, the latter’s message in the tune a rapped request for racial equality and respect. It’s a noble attempt at a successful collaboration, but there is the lingering sense that it’s a bit too lyrically shallow and simplistic – as well as musically awkward – to make any real waves. If nothing else, “Accidental Race” says a lot about Paisley’s quest to mix it up.
If the album is a little shaky lyrically, the fluidity and dexterity with which Paisley and his long-time backing band approach the material make up for it. Honest and fun, Wheelhouse is a solid release, in part because it doesn’t sound like Paisley gives a darn who’s listening.
The Verdict: Wheelhouse offers up more than country cliches. A great intro record for Brad Paisley newbies, it’s also accessible to long-time fans. Plus, LL Cool J (yes, that LL Cool J!) finds time to guest.
Record: Arista Nashville
Release date: Tuesday, April 9, 2013