Brad Paisley – “5th Gear” (Arista Nashville)
Brad Paisley has had an amazingly consistent rise to his current stardom. His first four albums all went platinum (with the last two releases “Mud On The Tires” and “Time Well Wasted” having gone double platinum), he’s had eight number one hits (the lastest being from this album, but more on “Ticks” later), joined the Grand Ole Opry and won awards from the Country Music Association and, most recently, the coveted Male Vocalist of the Year from the Academy of Country Music. All of this sets the stage for what is shaping up to be a huge year for Paisley (with the birth of his son being the obvious high of the year).
“5th Gear” starts off with a dose of Brad’s Roger Miller-like way of injecting humor into songs. “All I Wanted Was A Car” It’s a song where where Brad stretches his himself with a falsetto laced chorus. The guitars are punchy and twangy while the backing band accompanies Paisley quite well. While not the second single, “…Car” should be one by this time next year. “Ticks” is the lead-single from the record and it, too, has similar qualities to the first track. Humorous lyrics? Check. Punchy electric guitar played by Paisley? check. But while “…Car” has one couplet interjecting baby making humor, Ticks is actually more corny and the whole come-on of “I wanna check you for ticks” may be one that’d work but it’s still reeks of something sick. However, as always, what saves the chart-topper is Brad’s genial vocal and musicianship. Second single”Online“, with a video filmed by Jason Alexander playing the part of Paisley (“George” on “Seinfeld“) in Washington State. The song is, again, packed with humor. Brad manages to attack those people who live two lives, their regular pizza-delivering, Hyundai driving, 5-3, and overweight real life and their 6-5 chiseled good looks, Calvin Klein model millionaire online life. It is a song that starts off with Pink Floyd like keys and ends with a full college marching band playing the melody. It rivals “Alcohol” as one of Brad’s better works and should most definitely be a huge radio hit (even if that hit removes the cool marching band ending).
Brad is waxing nostalgia on a lot of “5th Gear” and perhaps its finest moment is the ballad “Letter To Myself.” Pop star P!nk had a similar ‘look back’ on her own record and it’s the kind of song that can be terrible if left to lesser-talents. Fortunately, Brad’s song also serves as a touching tribute to his aunt who died from cancer. For all of the punny songs that Paisley does it’s the songs like “Letter” which serve to remind me of why I think he’s placed himself firmly next to Alan Jackson in terms of artistic neo-traditionalist country music. “Some Mistakes” also serves as a piece of nostalgia and hits the heartstrings with the traditional storytelling arc about a guy who may have made some mistakes but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. “Some mistakes are too much fun…to only make once” is the apex of the chorus and the stellar instrumental breakdown at the end of the song shows as a spotlight for Paisley’s mighty find band. Even if never released to radio, the song will be played in concert for that reason alone. While Brad writes most of his material he has been known to record a few select songs from his Nashville songwriting community (for example “Whiskey Lullaby“). Drenched in steel guitar, “It Did” is about as powerful as a power ballad gets and it also features Brad’s most passionate vocal, possibly ever, since the song talks about life, love and the eventual birth of a couple’s child.
The ultra cool “Mr. Policeman” is a fun instrumental song with vocals which makes my previous comment about a band workout pale in comparison. For anyone who’s ever considered country music to be a bland genre they should be pointed to this song which manages to add a couplet from “In The Jailhouse Now” before slightly nodding to South Park with the line “I Respect Your Authora-tay.” I assume that the winter/spring single from “5th Gear” will be “Oh, Love.” A duet with Arista label-mate and country superstar Carrie Underwood, the ballad features many of the smoky vocal hallmarks that made “Whiskey Lullaby” such a great vocal pairing. Written by Gordie Samson (who co-wrote “Jesus, Take The Wheel”) Aimee Mayo and Hillary Lindsey, “Oh Love” could have been made into a huge power ballad but it’s not and I think it rivals Tim and Faith’s “I Need You.” as the best (mainstream) duet from 2007.
A Brad Paisley CD wouldn’t be complete with a Kung-Pao Buckaroos track, this time with Vince Gill, Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson. “Bigger Fish To Fry” is a fun piece of traditional country music that helps prove that, even in this digital age, that the album format isn’t quite dead yet. Brad has also closed all of his records with a hymn and this one’s no different. “When We Get To Heaven” isn’t the well-known classic that previous songs were but it’s still a nice song. Brad Paisley is quite a talented singer, songwriter and gunslingin’ guitarplayer. He is simply one of the best artists making mainstream country music nowadays and “5th Gear” proves just why. This one will make my Best of 2007 list. It’s too good not to.