Brad Paisley, ‘Wheelhouse’ – Album Review
Brad Paisley‘s ‘Wheelhouse’ delivers a familiar mix of humor, life lessons and scorching guitar solos, but it does it in a way different from any of the other eight albums the ‘Beat This Summer’ singer has released. He took his old formula, balled it up, lit it on fire and tossed the ashes in the garbage. The result is a meaty and ambitious project that doesn’t always click, but clears new ground when it does.
When you swing from the seats every time, you’re bound to whiff once or twice — and Paisley does. ‘Harvey Bodine’ — a story about a man who enjoys his five minutes in heaven before being resuscitated — is barely worth a chuckle. ‘Accidental Racist’ with LL Cool J finds the outer limit of Paisley’s pseudo-political reach. It’s not easy to summarize centuries worth of black/white tensions in one song, even one that’s nearly six minutes song. “RIP Robert E. Lee,” the rapper says awkwardly toward the end. ‘Accidentally Pretentious’ might be a better name for this song.
There’s a surprising amount of rap or spoken word lyrics on ‘Wheelhouse,’ and most of it works. ‘Karate’ is a hit waiting to happen. Charlie Daniels was the perfect voice to act out the play-by-play turning point of this uptempo rocker about a woman training to kick her abusive husband’s butt. When she does, it’s cathartic.
“He’s in a bar chasing Cuervo with Tacate / He doesn’t know she’s been taking karate,” Paisley sings to begin each chorus.
Mat Kearney provides more rap on ‘Pressing on a Bruise.’ Neither break will offend country traditionalists more than the rap in a song like ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ This ballad suffers a little from a waterfall of ideas and images. It’s too much to take it if one tries to listen past the simple message.
Others like ‘Tin Can on a String’ add depth to make up for the silliness of the ‘Death of a …’ series. The benchmarks of previous Paisley albums (a guy’s guy song, a song about an old man, a hold-nothing-back love song) aren’t found on ‘Wheelhouse.’ Instead he’s chosen a more diverse set of collaborators while continuing a push to become the voice of country music. This role suits him, as proven on the brilliant ‘Southern Comfort Zone.’
Seventeen tracks are too many, even if a few are little more than interludes. The singer earns an extra half star for some daring production. The funky, nuevo-blues open to ‘Outstanding in Our Field’ is one example, even if the story doesn’t quite match the foot-stomping, hill-country blues impression he lays down. A lack of momentum holds back a project that’s full of good ideas spaced apart.