Street Sounds: Play this on your country drive

Country singer/guitarist Brad Paisley’s ninth album, Wheelhouse, is a homegrown recording that sounds big, focussed, and expansive.

Country singer/guitarist Brad Paisley’s ninth album, Wheelhouse, is a homegrown recording that sounds big, focussed, and for Paisley, expansive.

The guitarist turned his Tennessee farmhouse into a studio, brought his six-piece road band on over and started tracking songs.

Paisley is a slick, expressive guitar player who embodies all of the country genre’s traits (speed, clean attack, twangy tone, etc.) along with his own cartoonish edge-of-your-seat phrasing.  Most importantly he can be tasteful.

As a bandleader and front man, Paisley is at the top of his game and Wheelhouse also highlights his vocal prowess.  He’s an easygoing singer whose style projects a friendly persona, and a sure way with a vocal hook.

Although Paisley’s (and his band, The Drama Kings) type of country music is Nashville-rooted and somewhat regional, he makes deliberate forays beyond the pale.

The most obvious are songs like Southern Comfort Zone, which unfolds like a travelogue from a Southerner’s point of view. It’s sentimentally rooted in stock country wistfulness but is musically charged by Paisley’s touring band and his feel-good vocal.

Other tracks are Karate, an unsentimental and clever reading on intimidation and abuse and the potentially cheesy Accidental Racist.

Paisley’s honesty and direct good intentions save this track from failure and his willingness to frame his message in a potentially charged subject are admirable.  He gets vocal assistance here from LL Cool J.

Those Crazy Christians is another potentially controversial track with Paisley riffing on southern Christian foibles and culture. It comes across as a witty, mainly benign observation: insightful rather than judgemental. All these songs are swept along by a super solid performance by the fleet- fingered Paisley and his band.

There’s the odd weird track like the goofy Death of a Married Man featuring Eric Idle(!) and the music hall schmaltz of Harvey Bodine.  But Wheelhouse is a long player and there’s classic party anthems that Paisley excels in like the smiley, happy Beat This Summer and Outstanding in Our Field, a witty homage to weekend warriors.

Just so they can hit all the stations and subjects, Paisley brings on the heartache in Pressing on a Bruise, a convincing take on unresolved obsession and longing and a big country ballad with sweet guitar work, I Can’t Change the World. There’s even a speedy instrumental on track #7 just to burn up a few fretboards.

Overall, Wheelhouse is an ambitious album that moves Paisley in a few different directions while maintaining his super-picker status.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a freelance music reviewer whose column, Street Sounds, appears in the Morning Star every Friday.