Album Review: Brad Paisley Gets Back to Himself on Love and War

Rating: 7.5/10

I won’t waste your time with a lot of introduction to this because you all know Brad Paisley, and most likely you’ve already formed an opinion. I’ve heard a lot of different takes on this album, but the one that sums it up the best is whatever your previous opinion of Brad was, this record’s not going to change it. So if you think he’s just that guy who did “Whiskey Lullaby” and maybe some other great songs early in his career and then killed his legacy with joke songs, I suggest you stop reading this review. If you’re like me, and you think he is one of the mainstream’s best, and maybe you were disappointed in the direction he went after This is Country Music, I’m happy to say what we get on Love and War is mostly a nice return to form for Brad Paisley.
There are sixteen songs on this album, and the main problem is not necessarily terrible songs, it’s just that there is too much filler–Josh of Country Perspective would have called it “wallpaper.” The unfortunate thing about it is that most of the wallpaper comes on the front half, and for that reason, as well as the fact that there’s just so much here, I’ll get to the highlights first.
Without a doubt, the shining moment on Love and War is “Gold All Over the Ground,” a poem written by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s that Brad Paisley lovingly set to music and performed excellently. My words can’t do justice to the poetry of Johnny Cash, and this one is the one you should make it a point to hear. It flows effortlessly into “Dying to See Her,” another great love song featuring Bill Anderson and telling the story of a man who has been going downhill since his wife died; the doctors can’t figure out why, but he is literally “dying to see her.” Together, these two songs make an outstanding moment on the record. These two are sandwiched between two collaborations with yes, Timbaland–I said it on Twitter, but I’ll say it again, if you have a problem listening to Paisley’s record because of Timbaland, this is unfortunate and, frankly, stupid. “Grey Goose Chase,” in fact, is one of the best songs; it’s fun and slightly bluegrass-inspired and sees the narrator going on the “grey goose chase” to drink away an ex. The other Timbaland contribution, “Solar Power Girl,” isn’t as strong, but that’s not due to Timbaland, it’s due to the lyrics. It’s about a girl who is escaping a bad home life which is compared to darkness and rain for college and a new, bright world where she can be a “solar power girl.” This one isn’t a highlight, but it’s not bad, and either way, Timbaland being a part of this album in no way brings it down…but I digress.
The title track is another strong collaboration, this time with John Fogerty, about our soldiers and how little the country does for them when they return home. It’s something that needs to be addressed, and too often in country, it’s simply patriotic songs and odes to fallen troops. This is a reality that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s also a collaboration with Mick Jagger, the fun, upbeat “Drive of Shame” that details the embarrassing morning after a night in Vegas.
Speaking of fun songs, Brad Paisley is certainly known for them, for better or worse, and I have to say, “Selfie#theinternetisforever” is definitely better. I am biased because I have serious issues with social media and the people glued to their phones and taking selfies of everything, but this song is just great. Another humorous moment that works is “One Beer Can,” where Brad tells the hapless story of Bobby, who cleaned up everything after a party while his parents were away–but still got grounded because he left one beer can behind the couch.
Now, as I mentioned, there’s some wallpaper/filler and some songs that could have just been left off without effect. “Heaven South” is not the worst album opener of 2017, but it’s definitely the most unfortunate–it’s checklist-ish and boring even if it’s harmless and inoffensive. I’m still not getting onboard with “Today,” the lead single–honestly, it’s just too underdeveloped and too sappy. It’s very generic and yeah, it’s not bad, but on a sixteen-song album I could do without it. Brad attempts to be sexy in “Go to Bed early” and, to a lesser extent, in “Contact High,” and for me, that just fails, so neither of these songs do anything for me. I will say “Contact High” does feature some very nice guitar play by Paisley, as does a lot of this record, which was somewhat lacking on his last couple albums, so that’s another nice return to himself. The biggest problem is that every song I just mentioned is on the front half of the album, so it is just a little unfortunate.
There’s one track on the back half that admittedly I just hate, and I can’t be completely unbiased about it. This is “The Devil is Alive and Well.” Now, for any of you who read Country Music Minds, you all know Leon does what he would call “philosophical rambling” on quite a frequent basis, and he is a lot better at it than I am. Anyway, he summed up nicely why I hate it in his review of this, and if you want a more concise, eloquent explanation, I suggest you read that. but basically, the song mentions all the evil in the world and the chorus states that whether or not we believe in heaven and hell, “I bet we can agree that the devil is alive and well.” The message itself is good, but it isn’t executed well; it explains the evil, and later says that “god is love” but doesn’t really do much to talk about God doing his part to combat evil. I don’t want to ramble on about this because it’s a completely personal reason and difference of philosophy that makes me hate this song, but honesty comes first here at Country exclusive, and that was my immediate reaction to the song and remains my opinion after several listens.
Overall, I’m glad to see that Brad Paisley is back to being Brad Paisley. Take that as you will; this record won’t change your mind about him, but if you were hesitant to buy this because his last two records were somewhat disappointing, rest assured that he’s back to doing what he does best which is just being himself. And if you were hesitant to buy this because of Timbaland, just stop.

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Single Review: Gretchen Wilson’s “Salt Mines”

Rating: 8/10

All right, so no, I didn’t know we had new Gretchen Wilson music until yesterday when I heard it on WNIA Radio courtesy of my friend Zackary Kephart–check out his radio shows here–I guarantee you will never hear so much fiddle on country radio–, but that is what radio was meant to do all along anyway, and who knew it could still do that in 2017? And it turns out, yeah, we are evidently due for a new Gretchen Wilson album soon; this is the second of two new singles, and I’ll be honest and say I am not quite as thrilled by the first, “Rowdy,” which apparently came out in late 2016. But “Salt Mines” is a fine offering from Gretchen and reminds me why I miss hearing her music.
I forgot just how country Wilson’s voice and delivery can be, and it works well with the more traditional instrumentation. It’s the lyrics that stand out though, as Gretchen sings about going “back to the grind, another day at the salt mine” as she goes through each day married to a man who drinks, leaves his clothes all over the house, and generally doesn’t seem to care about much of anything. It’s told in a somewhat humorous light–“and you’d think I’d just quit, but you’re too good in bed”–what a line. She says she thinks about leaving all the time, but despite it all, she’s here to stay. Just a nice, solid country song. Glad she’s back and interested to see if we’ll get a whole album from her soon.

Written by: Gretchen Wilson

Album Review: Charlie Worsham – Beginning of Things

Rating: 6/10

I had never heard Charlie Worsham before listening to Beginning of Things. I had heard his name before, but never took the time to check out his music. After hearing this album, I’m honestly not sure what I think.

Charlie Worsham’s voice is very pleasant to listen to. It’s smooth, and not too deep or high. He can definitely sing quite well, I just wish that all of these songs showed that.
My favorite moments on this album are the songs “For Old Time’s Sake,” and “The Beginning of Things”. “Old Time’s Sake” is probably the most country song on this album, as far as instrumentation goes. It features some really nice steel guitar. The song itself is about making a new beginning in a relationship. “The Beginning of Things” is a very well-done song about a man who left a woman right at the beginning of their marriage, and that woman later develops a condition where she can’t remember much that happened to her. All she remembers is the start of their relationship. What made it more poignant is the last half of the song which is told through the perspective of their daughter.

Other good songs on this album are “Cut Your Groove” for its message about making your mark on the world. “Take Me Drunk” is just funny, because he’s obviously had too much to drink. Part of the chorus says “Take me Drunk I’m Home”, which is quite amusing. It’s not a song you’ll love, but it’s fun.

Unfortunately, the other songs on this album don’t do as much for me. “Please People Please” is a bit repetitive, but its saving lyrics are “Even Jesus was preaching on the mountain side, Tryin’ to teach us about love when crucified, And it only goes to show, someone’s always gotta take offence”. The song is basically about how you can’t please anyone, which is a good theme. It just gets tiresome quickly when the same words and lines are repeated. “call You Up” is a song where he says he’ll only call his ex when he’s completely over her. “Only Way to Fly” is a pretty catchy song about having fun and taking life easy. The chorus, in particular, sticks in my head.

I don’t have too much to say about the rest of this album. “Birthday Suit” is probably the worst song here. It’s simply about getting naked, whether that’s on your own or with someone else. The backing vocals are a bit annoying, and the verse where Charlie Worsham starts rapping isn’t that good. “Southern By the Grace of God” wouldn’t be so boring if talking about how Southern you are hadn’t been done a thousand times before in recent memory. “Lawn Chair Don’t Care” is about how your lawn chair doesn’t care about the stress you’re under, which is just weird. I know it’s a metaphor for trying to relax and let stress leave you, but including a lawn chair in this just feels very out of place. “I Ain’t Going’ Nowhere” isn’t bad because it’s about how he’ll stick with the woman he’s with through thick and thin, but he repeats the title too much for my liking. As for the last song, “I-55”, I don’t mind it, but I don’t find myself coming back to it much, either. It’s about driving a stretch of highway, and how it helps him feel better in times of stress.

Instrumentally, the album isn’t particularly country, except for “Old Time’s Sake” as I’ve previously mentioned. There are a lot of pop influences, and even some R&B-sounding songs. “Please People Please” is interesting because it features horns, but none of the instruments really stick out as being anything special on this album.

Overall, I don’t love Beginning of Things. I think that there are some moments that were great, especially the title track. Charlie Worsham’s voice is very pleasant to listen to, as well. However, too many of these songs just did not do much for me. I found a lot of them repetitive, mediocre, and not very country in their instrumentation. I don’t think this is a horrible album, it’s just not for me.

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So Yeah, Put Seeing Jason Eady Live at the Top of Your List

So I had the opportunity to see Jason Eady at his album release show Friday in OKC at a cool little listening room called The Blue door, and I thought it was worth highlighting here.
This is indirectly going to be an endorsement of the blue door as well as Jason Eady because in order to explain the intimacy of this setting, I have to explain The Blue door. It’s known as “the best listening room in Oklahoma,” and that’s what you’re getting–it’s not a bar or a club or something where they play some live music and you get some drinks and maybe dance, it’s a room that holds about a hundred people, and it’s made for, yeah, listening. IN fact, this listening room is well-known as a “BYOB establishment,” and it’s perfectly normal to see people walking into The Blue door with ice chests and YETI cups. But it’s this laidback, intimate atmosphere that really lets Jason Eady’s mellow, thoughtful type of songwriting shine.
That’s not to say the whole night was mellow and laidback. In fact, much of it was quite upbeat, from the opener, “drive” from Eady’s new record to older songs like “Go Down Moses and “Back to Jackson.” But it’s in a setting like this where songs like “Barabbas” and “Black Jesus” really hit you, and where you can hear all the personal implications for Jason in songs like “Not Too Loud” and “Forty Years.” Eady told us he’d do every song on his new self-titled album, and he delivered, along with quite a few older ones from other albums and covers of Guy Clark and Merle Haggard. He even ended the night with a bluegrass song completely stripped down and allowing the listening room to fully live up to its name because, as Eady stated, “not every place is like this.” at that point, it wasn’t like he was on a stage singing for us; it was pretty much like Jason Eady was just sitting around in the living room with his guitar, and we were all singing along together.
I don’t want to speak too much about this or get into a long review, as it were, it’s just something I had to write about because you have to make it a point to see Jason Eady if you can. I can’t really pick a highlight of the night either, and that’s simply because the entirety of it was that brilliant. This is one of the best live music experiences you will be giving yourself, and I have to say I’m thankful to be here in Oklahoma where it will probably be easier to see him again. And while we’re on the subject, I’m going back to The Blue door too because let me tell you, that is one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Reflecting on: Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain

Sturgill Simpson is one of my favorite artists. He’s not afraid to experiment with his sound, or to write lyrics deeply grounded in real life. I know that his last two albums are the ones most talked about now, but I thought I’d discuss High Top Mountain. It’s the most country of the three albums Sturgill Simpson has released under his name so far, and it’s the one that introduced me to his music.

Release Date: 2013
Style: Traditional Country
Who Might Like this Album: People who love steel guitar and honest lyrics
Standout Tracks: “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean,” “Water in a Well,” “You Can Have the Crown,” “Hero,” “Some Days”

Reflections: Right away, when “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” starts off, you know what you’re in for. The song’s fast, unashamedly country in instrumentation, and Sturgill Simpson’s voice is deep and Southern. The album does eventually slow down, but it starts with a whirlwind. When I first heard the beginning of this album, I was instantly in love. This is the kind of music I want to hear. The fact that his band is so talented with guitar, drums, and pedal steel is the icing on the cake. The lyrics, though, are what makes this album stand out. “that’s the way it goes, life ain’t fair and the world is mean” is part of the chorus. Unless you’re leading a charmed life, you can’t help but relate to that.

Things slow down though, for songs like “Water in a Well”, and the writing gets even better. “Our love has all dried up like water in a well” is such a fabulous line. The slower melody and the steel guitar really help to carry this song, too.

My absolute favorite track on this album is “You Can Have the Crown”. It’s like cynicism dialed to ten, and it’s fantastic. The song is fast, with great steel guitar, but the lyrics steal the show, once again. I mean, who says stuff like “They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain, if you want it you can have the crown”? Once you’ve gotten over that particular line though, you see that The magic of it is that it surprisingly works. He’s broke, is wife wants a child, and he’s over it all. I love it.

Before you think this album is all doom and gloom, listen to “Hero”. Sturgill Simpson tells the tale of his grandfather who helped him through hard times, and it’s one of the best songs about love for family I’ve ever heard. He praises the generosity of his relative, and his grandfather’s work ethic to provide for his wife. It’s truly a fantastic song. “I know I’ll never find another hero, not another one like him” tells you everything you need to know about this song’s theme.

“Some Days” is a great track too, where he claims “people only wanna be your friend if you’ve got something they need”. Again, this is extremely relatable, as most people in their life have known friends like this. It’s another cynical song filled with frustration, but the thing that keeps the album from becoming too repetitive is that it’s real-life frustration. He frames his stories around people and situations you can picture, or you know that someone else has been in.

I know that this album(and Sturgill Simpson himself), have been talked about endlessly for years. However, I just couldn’t let an opportunity to discuss him and this album pass by. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite album by Sturgill Simpson, but I love how extremely country this one is. His lyrics, whether about love lost, his heroes, or his frustration over life, are extremely well-done. I still come back to this album, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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