Album Review: Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse

Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

It was less than 3 months ago that I wrote about my discovering Brad Paisley and liking his music, a lot. It was Hits Alive that got me into him and since then I’ve listened to and really enjoyed This Is Country Music and American Saturday Night, particularly the latter. So what was that mini Brad Paisley retrospective for? To highlight the fact that his new album, Wheelhouse, is the first one that I have anticipated and bought on the day of release. Well, I actually pre-ordered it last week and received it today, the day after release.

I had this review in mind even before listening to Wheelhouse and wasn’t sure whether to generally about the album, with particular attention to certain songs, or to look at each song individually. After listening to the album, I’ve decided to go for the latter, so let’s get on with that right now. It’s worth noting that I bought the deluxe version which has a massive 21 songs on it, 4 of them limited to this version.

Bon Voyage and Southern Comfort Zone
My first listen to Wheelhouse was in the car on the way home this evening, so with my eyes on the road and not on the stereo I didn’t notice what tracks were playing. Why is that of importance I hear you ask? Because a minute or so into what I though was Bon Voyage I thought it sounded remarkably like Southern Comfort Zone and there was a reason for that. Bon Voyage is only a 19 second instrumental introduction to Southern Comfort Zone and the album. The first song, and first single from the album is what initially put Wheelhouse on my radar, and encourages exploring the world, but at the same time extolling the virtues of home. The video that accompanies this song is essential viewing, and as such I present it you right now.

Southern Comfort Zone builds to a pretty epic sounding chorus which I can only imagine would be great to see performed live.

Beat This Summer
A good song about a summer relationship aside, Beat The Summer brings something to me that I sorely miss in music today, and particular from my favourite band of 25 years Bon Jovi – that being a cracking guitar solo. Brad’s guitar playing prowess was one of the things that first attracted me to his music and just 8 minutes and 20 seconds into Wheelhouse I’m rewarded with a nifty solo which returns again, after the chorus, towards the end of the song.

Outstanding In Our Field
Brad is joined by Dirks Bentley & Roger Miller, with Hunter Hayes on guitar. Two of those I’m aware of, but the only Roger Milla, spelt slightly differently, I know is the Cameroon football player famous for dancing after scoring in the 1990 football world cup. This is a fun song which sounds very much like a live jam, and for that it gets extra marks. More 6-string skills on display in a song that would have made a great summer anthem for an 18 year old me.

Pressing On A Briuse
It gets a bit more serious now as Brad sings about an old flame and how his wanting to see what she’s up to and reflecting on the past is like pressing on a bruise. An analogy I quite like, though wiggling a loose tooth would be my go to alternative. Only problem being that most people over the age of ten don’t get those, so well done Brad, your’s is better. Good song up until the rapping bit which didn’t do much for me, and was thankfully not too long.

I Can’t Change The World
This is a really nice stripped back acoustic sounding, at the start at least, love song. I mentioned Bon Jovi before and I can imagine Jon singing this in the band’s new direction of the last few years. This is a song that Brad will play when the sun goes down at outdoors gigs, and will be played by more than a few men to their chosen gal. Another guitar solo? Go on then, you know how much I like them.

幽 女
This is an instrumental song whose title translates to Quiet Female. It sounds like a blend of the orient and an old western, with the emphasis on the latter. Nice little tune, not much more to be said really, apart from mentioning some pretty fine string skills on display.

Karate
This song had me thinking probably more than I should have. It’s basically about a woman who it seems gets knocked about by her husband and goes on to learn karate until she reaches black belt and can then fight back and kick his butt. Now the problem I have with this is that it takes years to get to that stage, so surely she’d be better leaving him than staying in an abusive relationship until this point of trained revenge? Musically it would appear that Quiet Female is a prelude to Karate and it’s a fun song, if not a little bewildering for the points I have already talked about.

Death Of A Married Man
Great little song, and emphasis on the little, that has Eric Idle singing. Yes, the Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. I’d love to know the story that lad to him working with Brad, but I’m thankful it happened.

Harvey Bodine
The fun continue continue with a song that sees Brad singing about a guy who was officially dead for 5 minutes, but then came back to life, only to hanker back to that dead period thanks to having to go back to his wife whom he appears to dislike immensely. There are times when the melodic vocal reminds me of Paul McCartney in his days as a Beatle, which can only ever be a good thing. It’s at this point in the album where I’m thinking Brad may have had a relationship that has ended badly as this is the 3rd song in 9, if we discount Bon Voyage, that has been about unhappy partnerships.

Tin Can On A String
It all slows down now for Tin Can On A String as we a sing about a couple getting married, and Brad as the guy who wanted to be with her. Another song about a missed chance of love – I’m definitely sensing a theme here. Brad hits some pretty high notes and treats me to another guitar solo, albeit shorter than the previous efforts. A decent enough song, but beaten out by I Can’t Change The World as the top ballad on Wheelhouse.

Death Of A Single Man
You got me Brad, I was fooled. This song starts off as if we are talking about a guy who has not long to live and then dies, until we get swerved and it’s actually his life as a single man that has ended. What seems like it is going to be quite a depressing tune actually turns into a jaunty song about this guy’s new life as a married man. That said, even though it’s lighthearted, it is another song knocking marriage. A very 70s sounding guitar solo takes into the last minute of Death Of A Single Man, which in itself sounds quite dated, intentionally so.

The Mona Lisa
I’m sure there’s a Coldplay song that starts a little like this, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. This is a turn up for the books, it’s a song about a guy loving a woman and being with her being enough in his life. I guess Brad isn’t as against relationships as some earlier songs may have implied.

Accidental Racist
What starts out being a good song about a guy wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd Confederate Flag and stupidly realising that to some it means something different than being proud of his heritage, is soon spoiled when LL Cool J raps his way into the song. I wasn’t keen on Brad’s own country rapping earlier in the album, I’m far less satisfied with the hood invading this country tune. I get that he wanted the other side of being judgmental to be represented, but the two styles don’t blend well together at all.

Runaway Train
I like the sound of this song a lot with it’s blend of stringed instruments and fast pace, but it’s definitely one of those songs that needs a few more listens before it resonates with me. It’s a song about a guy who is with a woman, or maybe he isn’t, who has some kind of hold on him. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, it just didn’t stand out for its story as much as the others, but then 21 songs is a lot to take and write about on first play.

Those Crazy Christians
For a short while I though Mr Paisley was going to attack the Christian religion, but as the song progresses you realise that he’s actually complimenting and praising them, sometimes in a backhanded way. I particularly like the “They curse the Devil’s whiskey, while they drink the savior’s wine” line, which elicited a bizarre partially flame engulfed bar image in my mind! I’m left wondering if Brad himself has been baptised in this song, or whether it was just a guy like him.

Officially Alive
For the first 3 seconds this could be a Killers song, but then it very clearly isn’t, as the banjos kicking in a while later confirm for sure. More comparisons as the guitars in the chorus sound like a U2 song, with a another song that builds to an epic pinnacle about feeling alive. As a father, any song that talks about becoming a parent is going to score sentimental points with me, as this one does. A great way to end what is the last song on the standard album.

Yankee Doodle Dixie (Bonus Song)
This is an amalgamation of Yankee Doodle Dandy and Dixie, at least in tune and the few lines of lyrics we actually get. A fun little interlude.

Facebook Friends (Bonus Song)
When I first saw this was the title of one of the songs on the album I cringed, but was that just me being incredibly antiquated and is it no different to people writing songs about talking on the phone? It’s a decent tune, but even after listening to it I can’t get my head around a song about Facebook – it just seems to crass and something I’d expect from Justin Bieber. The song is a dichotomy of traditional sound and, well, Facebook!

Get Even (Bonus Song)
OK, so we’re back on the relationship gone bad vibe as this song advises the scorned female to get back at her cheating husband by cheating on him. What kind of advice is that? OK, it’s not a totally serious song, but really, after Karate I’m thinking Bard Paisley should definitely not seek future employment as a relationship counselor. It’s a good tune though with a nice duelling guitar and violin section which really appealed to me.

Southern Comfort Zone (Acoustic Version) (Bonus Song)
I love acoustic music and giving the title song of this album that treatment to end this deluxe version of Wheelhouse is perfect, and sounds absolutely fantastic.

Though I have a few objections to content and musical direction, all in all Wheelhouse is a fantastic album, with a great variety of songs and moods, though sometimes relying a little heavily on bad relationships for material. Great vocals, interesting lyrics and some masterful musicianship, Brad Paisley’s latest album brilliantly combines his superb ability to put stories to music. I used the word fun a number of times in this review and it seems like Brad had a lot of fun making this album, which in some way reminds me of Jerrod Niemann’s Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury with its mix of humour, song styles and personality. If I were to give this album a rating it would be 4.5 out of 5. With a lot of great albums coming out in 2013, Wheelhouse is going to be hard to beat.

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