Brad Paisley has just released his new album Wheelhouse. Brad certainly goes outside his wheelhouse on this one, sitting in the producers chair for the first time and hitting some touchy subjects like racism, spousal abuse, and religion. At the same time, Brad's wheelhouse is combining traditional country sounds with hot guitar licks, witty lyrics, and southern charm. On the surface, Wheelhouse is typical Brad. Dig deeper, and it's so much more.
Brad Paisley is one of the few artists who still gets the concept of an album. This is not a list of 12 singles. This is a 17 track journey in which many tracks coincide with each other. Brad has done this on many of his albums, and its a very good thing. When your album has a theme and message throughout, it really brings the songs and the story to life. Brad has a unique sense of humor and outlook on life, and it shows in nearly every song.
The opening track "Southern Comfort Zone" is a fresh take on the laundry list country song. I really like the message and lyrics of this one, but the sound had to grow on me. I love that Brad is taking risks though. Brad's biggest downfall has been his predictability and formalistic approach over the years, so in this one he goes for a totally fresh sound. It took awhile, but I dig it. The second single "Beat This Summer" is a decent summer song, but is mostly forgettable. It isn't bad, but isn't outstanding. I would have preferred "Outstanding In Our Field" as the summer anthem single, as it has a cooler sound (even if the lyrics are similar) and features Dierks Bentley on vocals and Hunter Hayes laying down some nice guitar licks (I do give him props, he can play) and even a Roger Miller cut in the middle. Pretty good company. I see that being a radio hit soon. "Runaway Train" is pretty much a straight forward country jam song, with some twangy instrumentals and lonesome lyrics. I love those fun, easy on the ears songs, and Brad always delivers on them. "Runaway Train" is a cool track, even if it seems destined to stay on the album and not be a radio single.
Some of the sentimental songs on this album are pretty formidable as well. " Pressing on A Bruise" and "Tin Can On A String" both sound like big radio hits, and have a distinctive Brad Paisley vibe you can't find anywhere else. Both have really clever lyrics and are full of emotion. "Officially Alive" is a great way to look at life, and features big soaring vocals. Brad really sounds his best on this song, belting out the big chorus with ease. "The Mona Lisa" is another sweet song with big vocals that he nails. It suggests that himself holding his love is comparable the frame holding the Mona Lisa. It's an awkward comparison, but it works. All these songs have that sweet sound of a man in love with his family and his life. Brad has a way with these kinds of emotional songs, and these are right in his wheelhouse.
Brad gets a little weird too. "Karate" is a humorous look at martial abuse (you read that right). It sounds crazy, but it works. I never thought a country song about Tae Kwon Do with a spoken word breakdown by Charlie Daniels would be this cool, but it really is. "Death of Single Man" is a goofy intro to the funny and thought provoking "Harvey Bodine", and both will make you groan and laugh (in a good way). "Accidental Racist" is a country rap duet with LL Cool J about the Confederate Flag and racism in the South. Read a more thorough review of that song here. It's certainly interesting. "Those Crazy Christians" is a look at Christianity through the eyes of an unbeliever. It's an interesting way of seeing things, but it ends up being a song both believers and non believers can relate to.
Brad Paisley took some big risks with this, and they paid off. Brad managed to be fresh, interesting, and hip, while being traditional and sticking to what made his fans love him. The sounds are modern and push the limits of the term country at times, but still fall right into Brad's Wheelhouse. This is a cool album and I highly suggest grabbing yourself a copy!
Standout Tracks: "Southern Comfort Zone", "Karate", "Accidental Racist (featuring LL Cool J)", "Harvey Bodine" "Runaway Train"