Release Date: May 23, 2011
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Country, Contemporary Country, Neo-Traditionalist Country
Brad Paisley's thematic 10th album embraces all of what country music is today — its soul, its vivid storytelling, and, yes, its genre clichés. The lead singles, uncharacteristically, are ads more than songs: The self-congratulatory title track preaches to the choir, earning boldness points for working the word "cancer" into its lyrics, while "Old Alabama" praises Eighties country-pop cornballs Alabama — complete with cameo — as a good-ol'-girl aphrodisiac. Elsewhere, the greatest country artist of his generation keeps it fresh, funny and guitar-heroic.
Brad Paisley is so quintessentially a country star, it’s almost as if he has been engineered by twang-happy research scientists or tobacco-chewing aliens to encapsulate everything great about the genre. He’s a sentimentalist, a rocker, a traditionalist, a singer of gospel and goofy novelty songs, a proponent of family and fleshly values, and a flame-shooting Telecaster hero. If his 15-song event albums were the sum total of country music, it would still be a pretty well-developed medium.
Consciously backpedaling from the all-encompassing embrace of American Saturday Night, Brad Paisley narrows his definition of what constitutes modern country on his seventh collection of new songs, This Is Country Music. Gone are the casual multiculturalism, the allusions to the age of Obama, the subtle instrumental flourishes that suggested a world outside of country; whenever Paisley chooses to broaden the horizons on This Is Country Music, he brings in Don Henley to duet on a power ballad or kicks up the reverb for a bit of landbound surf-rock. From the album title right on down to a rousing tribute to “Old Alabama” -- a tribute so clever it seamlessly references a handful of the band’s '80s hits, its chorus playfully inverting “Mountain Music,” then enlists the group to sing the punch line -- Paisley celebrates the strict confines of country, gently bending its topical borders but adhering to country customs so strictly he even convinces Clint Eastwood to whistle a Morricone melody on a spaghetti Western instrumental tribute to the actor.
Since he promised the Guardian last year that he was on a mission to win over cynical Brits, things have been going Brad Paisley's way: a headline show at London's O2 arena next month is almost sold out. His seventh album shows why he remains the Nashville mainstream's most potent ambassador. He has fun with country's cliches, but still treats the genre seriously: on the deliberately daft Camouflage, the jokey lyric ("be invisible to a whitetail/ irresistible to a redneck girl") is underpinned by technical and intricate guitar work.
Only a minute or so into Brad Paisley’s new album, the singer evokes the album’s title. “This is country music,” he declares, and he delivers the line with equal parts pride and resignation. What “this” actually refers to can mean the very song he’s singing, the sensibility of the entire genre in general, or where country music finds itself at this particular moment in history.
Brad Paisley’s This Is Country Music includes a few moments of genuine brilliance that punctuate a whole lot of genre pastiche and audience-pandering. Nomally, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year wouldn’t need to shout his allegiances to traditional country-music standards and values as loudly as he does here, but Paisley rocked a few boats among his core fanbase with the more progressive politics of his last album, American Saturday Night. This Is Country Music is something of a course-correction, an appeal to the country genre’s formal conservatism and a record that, in its best moments, showcases the depth and insight that country music can offer.
Paisley’s at the top of his game – but he’s capable of better than this. Nick Barraclough 2011 Bit presumptuous, that title; but if anyone can use it, the current Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year can. And there’s nothing on this album, Paisley’s ninth, that isn’t fully representative of today’s country music. As the opening title-track says, "You’re not supposed to sing about… cancer… Jesus… tractors… little towns… momma… But this is country music, and we do." And he does.