It’s a gutsy thing for any musician to suggest that his latest effort represents an entire genre. Oh, I suppose I could see Kanye West releasing an album called This Is Rap Music. But we would immediately recognize his cheeky hubris for what it was.
The remarkable thing about country stalwart Brad Paisley’s seventh effort, This Is Country Music, is how it backs up that claim without ever seeming sarcastic or smug. Paisley simply hoists his famously paisleyed six string, plugs in and gets to work. Fifteen songs later, he’s covered the primary country bases so effectively—from good-hearted anthems to good ol’ boy shenanigans—that you can’t help but say, “Yup. That’s country music, alright.”
Faith and suffering are just two of the significant subjects addressed in the title track: “You’re not supposed to say the word cancer in a song,” Paisley complains. “And tellin’ folks Jesus is the answer can rub ’em wrong.” Patriotism and sacrifice soon show up too: “Are you haunted by the echo of your mother on the phone/Cryin’ as she tells you that your brother is not coming home?/Well if there’s anyone that still has pride/And the memory of those that died defending the old red, white and blue/This is country music, and we do.” Likewise, “Life’s Railway to Heaven” bursts with four-part harmony gospel glory as Paisley (joined by Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson) praises God’s guidance (“Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us/Till we reach that blissful shore/Where the angels wait to join us/In God’s praise forevermore”).
On “A Man Don’t Have to Die,” longsuffering members of a church beg a young preacher for a message of hope in a world full of hellish struggles (“So tell us ’bout them angels/And how they fly around and sing/Tell us how to get there/’Cause we all want to be/Restin’ in the arms of Jesus/No shame or pain or tears”). Paisley then punctuates their point by describing the “hell” of a man looking in vain for fulfillment in alcohol and strip clubs.
“One of Those Lives” contrasts a harried man’s passing complaints about traffic and work with news from his wife about friends whose child has cancer. The song emphasizes gratitude and counting your blessings (“I don’t thank God as much as I should”) and keeping the “small stuff” in perspective. Another sentimental moment comes on “Toothbrush,” which reminisces about all the little connections between a couple’s first date and the first time their son brushes his teeth years later. “Love Her Like She’s Leavin'” finds an older man counseling a newly married young buck not to take his bride for granted. “I Do Now” recounts the lessons a grieving man has learned since his infidelity cost him his marriage.
“Remind Me” reflects on a couple’s longing to rekindle the love that marked their first days together (“Now we keep saying that we’re OK/But I don’t want to settle for good not great/ … If you still love me/Don’t assume I just know”) …
… but that song also lacks a clear reference to marriage while repeatedly alluding to sex early in the relationship (“We’d turn out the lights and we didn’t just sleep”). Similarly, “New Favorite Memory” could be about a married couple that’s late for a double date with friends because of a quick tryst, but their relational connection isn’t spelled out either. And a physical connection is again one of the main subjects on “Old Alabama,” when a guy and his beer-lovin’ girl cruise through the backwoods of Tennessee looking for “a hideaway were she and I can play/ … A little Dixieland delight at the right time of the night/And she can’t keep her hands off of me.”
“Working on a Tan” profanely lauds a college coed’s decision to blow off studying to work on her appearance instead (“There’s a term paper due in a week or two/Only she don’t give a d‑‑n”) and notes beer-drinking guys at the beach who’ve shown up to watch her. Swimsuits are also the subject on “Be the Lake,” as a man suggestively fantasizes about what it would be like to be very close to a woman he’s eying (“Wish I could be that beach towel that you laid down on/Or that two-piece fitting you so right it’s wrong”).
“Don’t Drink the Water” delivers a Jimmy Buffet-esque tale of a man who heads to Mexico to drink away the blues after his lady leaves him. The song references Corona, Tecate and Patrón. “This Is Country Music” tips its hat to drinking and getting “a little loud.”
In his review of This Is Country Music, Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Willman observed, “Brad Paisley is so quintessentially a country star, it’s almost as if he has been engineered by twang-happy research scientists or tobacco-chewing aliens to encapsulate everything great about the genre. He’s a sentimentalist, a rocker, a traditionalist, a singer of gospel and goofy novelty songs, a proponent of family and fleshly values, and a flame-shooting Telecaster hero. … The whole record plays like a best-of sampler—not just for Paisley, but for the history of the art form.”
The result is an album that is equally at home singing the praises of Jesus, patriotism, marriage and fidelity as it is sippin’ a tall cold one, looking for secluded spot to climb in the backseat with a redneck girl or fantasizing about what it’s like to be a pretty young thing’s swimming suit top. And that is country music.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.