Sound — 9
Brad Paisley is an acclaimed country guitarist/vocalist. Over the years, he has accumulated a fair number of "best country vocalist" awards to go along with too many high charting singles to count. He also happens to be one of today's best country guitarists. Heck, he's so good he may be one of the best guitarists in all rock music. Yet, I believe more people recognize him for the popularity of his songs (from a sing-along standpoint) than for his prowess as a guitarist.
With this album, Paisley focuses much more on the music than the vocals. His last album, "Wheelhouse," got him into trouble with the Politically Correct Police for discussing touchy issues and it sure seems like he does intend for a replay of that fiasco. As musicians, I think we can appreciate Paisley's change of pace. Although no album will be as instrumentally oriented as his "Play" album, this one comes close in declaring to the world how a country guitarist can shred and shred well (check "Moonshine in the Trunk").
Of course, this album isn't some sort of country-metal mashup; one of the qualities a good shredder must have is knowing when it is appropriate to shred and in what manner to do so. Paisley's control, with shredding or other qualities, is remarkable on this album. He knows just when to break into a solo, use a wah, jump in with a violin, or simply strum chords to let the lyrics shine. In addition, while this may seem elementary for a country album, his telecaster tone is excellent.
From a sound standpoint, this album feels rawer than his last. Whereas before, the instruments would, for the most part, nicely blend into the background to provide room for the vocals, now they jump out at the listener at all times, taking center stage. Even in the chorus of most of the songs, there is something interesting happening just underneath the surface.
Paisley also does a better job, I think, than most country musicians in the amount of variety he puts in an album. Even though the whole album is in the country vein, each of the songs sound distinctly different. From a vocal standpoint, it's a different story but in terms of the music, the instruments, Paisley gets creative and crafts an album that is engaging the whole way through. In a world where so many country artists fill albums with the same song, it is refreshing and exciting to see Paisley put so much depth and detail in his work. And as surprising as it may seem, the two best examples of Paisley's depth and creativity are on the title track, "Moonshine in the Trunk," and the lead single "River Bank." Considering that Paisley's songs always have a shot at cracking and topping the charts, it is amazing that he took the risk of putting relatively complex songs at the forefront. Of course, the record company could have wanted a song like "River Bank" to be the lead single. If that is the case, it is a testament to Paisley's ability to transfer great musicianship into a medium acceptable to the masses.
Lyrics — 7
The vocals are the one area that is left wanting. As Paisley's music is over the top, so I would expect the vocals. Maybe it's because he feels a need to do something mainstream, but the vocals are incredibly vanilla in delivery. Basically, Tim McGraw or Garth Brooks or any other mainstream country singer could have done the vocals and sounded similar to Paisley. His vocals aren't bad or even below average, but his music deserves better.
From a lyrical standpoint, Brad Paisley still writes lyrics that either have substantive meaning or tell stories or both. However this album does not feature any of the risky material that was prevalent on his last album, à la "Accidental Racist," among others. Despite the bland duds, like "Country Nation," there are still a lot of good moments.
If only the vocal delivery would change.
Overall Impression — 9
Taken as a whole, this is another great release from Brad Paisley. It sees him break into more instrumentation than before. I actually think the instrumentation is actually better than that of "Play" because of how it interacts with the vocals. Even discounting all the other instruments, from a purely guitar perspective this album is excellent.
If you're looking for some masterful guitar solos together with some playful country songs, then look no further. Mr. Paisley is here to serve you, and maybe have a couple of drinks with you too.