Monday, August 17, 2009

Week 2: James Recommends Brad Paisley

Well, folks, I'm still trying to figure out a system for my music recommendations. Should I do it by genre, chronology, or favorites? Should the order be ascending or descending? So many questions to be answered. Ultimately, I've decided to go through my music by the order in which I first heard it. However, since I'm already on a Country binge, I figured I'd finish working through the relatively small list of Country artists I enjoy, and then go back and start from the beginning. Since Brad Paisley is my favorite Country artist, I reckon I'll recommend him first.

Before I talk about why I like Brad Paisley so much, let me talk about why I don't like most Country that much. I'll be the first to say that I simply do not understand the phenomenon of its amazing commercial success. If you're anything like me, your first (and possibly final) experience with Country music was one of intense boredom. Every song that comes on the radio is exactly the same as the one that came before it, and the one that came before it was pretty nondescript. You can pretty much count on the same chord progressions, the same vocal style, the same structural style, and the same lyrics to be present in 99% of popular Country. It's a genre where who's singing a song matters far more than what that person is singing. Every big name artist is guaranteed to top the charts despite the fact that there is rarely anything new or original about their performance. In a lot of ways, I find it infuriating that such a culture exists, but, lately, every time I'm in the car I find myself turning on the Country station. Why? Well, I think the answer comes in two parts.

First, the good songs are really good. Every once in a while, you'll find yourself audibly laughing, smiling, and getting chills for a variety of reasons that may include but are not limited to: lyrical wit and creativity; intensely personal and sympathetic subject matter, musical riffs that blow you away, and just plain excellent musicianship. Second, the spectrum doesn't extend that low. While most Country songs sound similar, none of them are that bad. Compare this to your average station that plays Top-40 hits all day long, where the percentage of songs I love is roughly the same, but where I find myself genuinely and absolutely hating every other song. Thus, listening to the Country station will be, at worst, bearable, and at best, stunning, making for a better overall experience.

Well, now. You remember all those things I said about Country music being rigid, formulaic, and kitsch? When it comes to Brad Paisley, you can disregard every one of those statements. But do keep in mind that I said good Country songs are really good. It's going to be quite a chore to pick out only 10 songs.

--The Brad Paisley Top-10

1: Mud on the Tires (Mud on the Tires)
Mud on the Tires is the song that made me originally fall in love with Brad Paisley's music years ago, and to this day I think it remains his most complete effort. Every one of the song's elements works together in perfect harmony with the others to create a true masterpiece. Musically, the verses are perfect builds for the chorus, which takes my breath away. The lyrics are good; they're not mind-blowing in and of themselves, but neither should they be. They don't distract from the overall blend of the song. Perfect is a strong word, but I think they fit, err... perfectly. Melodically, Brad Paisley is at his best when he uses large vocal swings a la the chorus. You'll find this to be a trend in what I consider his best songs.

2: All I Wanted Was a Car (5th Gear)
I did a severe double-take the first time I realized that this song was never even released as a single, since I think that on a purely instrumental level this song is probably my favorite of all Brad's work. While it lacks the lyrical and structural depth of "Mud on the Tires," I rarely find the chills creeping up and down my spine the way they do when this song comes on. In fact, it almost feels like I'm not doing it justice by putting it as a mere #2. This is a statement that will hold true for most of Brad Paisley's music: while you may hear other Country artists use some of the same instruments, you will never hear them used in the same way, which is one of the best adulations I can give.

3: Celebrity (Mud on the Tires)
Here we have our second single from the album "Mud on the Tires," and it's a duzy. Lyrically, it's simply fantastic. You won't find Eminem-style rhymes, and it doesn't need them. It's a delightfully clever, witty, -- and risky -- commentary on celebrity culture. In fact, you'll find lyrical risk a line that Brad Paisley treads quite often, not in the sense of controversy, but rather in how easy it would be for the lyrics to fall short. They stand on the edge of a knife, on a precipice, and one misstep would be all it would take for them to fall off. But yet, somehow, Brad pulls it off, and without an extremely complex rhyme scheme. I'm a lyrical stickler, and I keep trying to find fault with this song, but to no avail. Oh, and the music rocks too.

4: Whiskey Lullaby (Mud on the Tires)
I don't really have words. I'm sure I could conjure up something -- especially in regard to the lyrics -- but it would fall short and cheapen this masterpiece. Just trust me: let this song do all the talking. In fact, now I'm having second thoughts about having it this far down on the list. That just shows you how amazing 1-3 are.

5: Letter to Me (5th Gear)
Speaking of great lyrics, this is a song leans less on musical brilliance and almost entirely on the sheer integrity and honesty of its lyrics. You won't find jaw dropping melodies and harmonies, although the music does blend nicely. This song should be every young person's creed and theme-song. If you don't identify with its sentiments, you must have skipped adolescence like that kid from "Big." I won't say any more about it because I don't want to ruin the (pleasant) surprise.

6: Kentucky Jelly (Play)
Okay, you know me, I couldn't stay away from musical brilliance for too long. This song is off Brad's album "Play," which is almost entirely instrumental. While most popular musicians could be validly labeled talentless hacks (listen to the song "Celebrity"), Brad Paisley is a sterling musician in his own right. He can make that guitar sing, boy, let me tell you. But that's not enough, in and of itself. Anyone can write immensely complicated music, but making that music sound good is about the most difficult task that can be achieved (I'm looking at you, 99.999% of metal ever written). This song is melodically/harmonically awesome, and incorporates a lot of bluegrass elements. While that's pretty well true for most of Paisley's songs, this one just happens to showcase it.

7: Waitin' On a Woman (Time Well Wasted / 5th Gear / Play)
Released on three different CDs, this stands as one of Brad Paisley's biggest commercial hits. And though the lyrics are the driving force behind the song, it's not too shabby musically either. In the original version(s) Brad Paisley did all the vocals. However, on the "Play" release, Andy Griffith stepped in to record all the lines spoken by the old man. The contrast provided here, especially in reference to the lyrics, is simply fabulous. It's heart-wrenching, funny, and a little bit encouraging, all at the same time.

8: The Best Thing That I Had Goin' (Mud on the Tires)
If you couldn't tell already, "Mud on the Tires" is an incredible album, chock full of great stuff from top to bottom. This song, while a little closer to your average Country standards, is still miles (or kilometers if you're an elitist snob) and miles above it. Great music and better-than-average lyrics.

9: Spaghetti Western Swing (Mud on the Tires)
Okay, so this song actually annoys me in a lot of ways (especially after many listens). But, if you listen closely enough, you hear a tribute to Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," which is by far the greatest cinematic soundtrack ever envisioned. That alone merits a mention here on the Top-10. If you can get past the little skit, you might find yourself surprised at just how good the musical solos are.

10: When We All Get to Heaven (5th Gear)
One thing that I really appreciate about Brad Paisley is that he seems to stay true to his roots. Maybe it's just a massive facade put on by his producers to sell more albums, but I don't really care if it is. Hymns have been an absolutely massive part of Southern/Country culture since the get-go, and I find it so incredibly endearing that Brad will occasionally include one on his secular/mainstream albums. He's not ashamed of his heritage and beliefs, and neither am I, which is why I have no choice but to include this wonderful and timeless song in the Top-10 as we wrap things up.

Bon Appetit!

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