Brad Paisley's latest is so well-meaning it's tempting to forgive how overwrought it is. He's trying to take country to new places, but even two tracks that subject the South to tough love feel confused: Interpolating the blackface-born "Dixie" into "Southern Comfort Zone" sorta cancels out LL Cool J's cameo in the clumsily audacious "Accidental Racist." Simultaneously scrutinizing and pandering to his fan base, setting obligatory Nashville themes (summer, weddings, trains) to studio pomp, he walks a tightrope and sometimes stays on – see the domestic-abuse revenge shout-along "Karate." There's even a cute "My Sharona" joke. And as always, plenty of tasty guitar.
2009’s American Saturday Night, as personal and domestic-focused as much of it was, contained in its Obama-referencing single and elsewhere some indication that Brad Paisley was interested in what was going on in the world, politically and culturally. On his ninth studio album Wheelhouse, Paisley twice voices the perspective of a man who’s not that interested in changing the world. On the love song “The Mona Lisa”, he explains the world like this: “Now there are men who make history /There are men who change the world / And there are men like me / That simply find the right girl.” On an earlier song, he declares, simply, “I can’t change the world”.
If Brad Paisley signaled a tentative stylistic retreat via the title of 2011's This Is Country Music, the name of its 2013 sequel, Wheelhouse, is a fake-out. By no means is he returning to familiar territory here; he's stepping far outside his "Southern Comfort Zone," as Paisley puts it on the record's first single. There, he admits how he misses his Tennessee home but he's seen the ways he's grown and never would have seen the world without leaving what he already knew, a kind of self-evident truth that passes for a major revelation in the polarized world of 2013, where residents of both red and blue states are very happy within the confines of their county.