Brad Paisley's America
With the release of Brad Paisley's ninth studio album, Wheelhouse, this week, the country star moves away slightly from the audience-pleasing anthems that made up 2011's This Is Country Music. He embraces a pop-friendly self-production and welcomes LL Cool J onboard for a song tackling Southern race relations that is currently driving the Internet insane. (Yes, that'd be "Accidental Racist.") But this fits a career-long pattern. Since emerging in 1999 with the single "Who Needs Pictures," the West Virginia native has always sought a way to honor country traditions while challenging himself and convincing his audience to come along with him.
It's a process that has served him well. Paisley can lay claim to such distinctions as being the youngest-ever inductee into the Grand Ole Opry (he became a member at 28) and charting 32 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including 10 consecutive No. 1 hits. Many of these have showcased his way with a delicate ballad, like 2009's "Then," advice-to-younger-self number "Letter to Me" and the after-hours meet-cute "We Danced." But Paisley is equally adept at the funny stuff (you could even say the silly stuff), whether he's offering to check his love interest for "Ticks," raising a glass to both moderation and excess in "Alcohol," or espousing the social benefits of "Camouflage."
A devotion to country heritage also shines through thanks to his love for instrumentals (his 2008 album Play was largely a showcase for his own formidable guitar skills), duets (from a live Opry appearance with Chely Wright titled "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife" to Carrie Underwood helping propel the melody of "Remind Me"); and guest spots (George Jones, Andy Griffith, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, and country-rock outfit Alabama have all appeared on his albums). Yet Paisley's desire to wander avenues often left unexplored by his peers also allows him to pen such thoughtful (and sometimes amusing) numbers as the single-mom tribute "He Didn't Need to Be," an ode to strong women titled "The Pants," and an embrace of multicultural America in both "Welcome to the Future" and "American Saturday Night." His first single off Wheelhouse continues in this vein, reflecting on the safety of a "Southern Comfort Zone" even while asking Tennessee to let him roam the world a bit longer. Here's a playlist highlighting the hits and more from one of country's top acts.