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Brad Paisley - Love and War (Album Review)

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Brad Paisley is one of life’s good guys. He’s an old school gentleman, a goofy comedian, a humble superstar with a social conscience. Which means that criticising him, or his work, would surely be an act of unconscionable cruelty. So it’s a relief that we don’t have to sink to such depths when reviewing ‘Love and War’, an album that finds the Nashville icon back to his best.

This is an important record for the West Virginia native after two efforts that weren’t universally appreciated. The experimental ‘Wheelhouse’ was a noble attempt to broaden his horizons that dissatisfied country diehards, while ‘Moonshine in the Trunk’ boasted an over-produced country-pop sound and enjoyably superficial tunes that, nevertheless, suggested he was on autopilot.

Paisley’s finest material bridges traditional country storytelling and musicianship and the genre’s modern, melodic stylings. That’s what made ‘Mud On The Tires’ and ‘American Saturday Night’ superlative records and ‘Love and War’ is pleasingly cut from the same cloth.

Buoyed by a great live sound that allows the country instrumentation to breathe, Paisley’s killer six-string work stands front and centre, twanging with a classic strut that’s been less prominent of late.  

Yet ‘Love and War’ again proves the guitar hero is, first and foremost, a great songwriter and wordsmith who views the world with childlike wonder, finding profundity, hilarity, absurdity and beauty in everyday occurrences most people take for granted, while also being dismayed by life’s miseries.

Heaven South is a glorious singalong that offers a breezy paean to southern living while Today delivers soaring sentimental balladry, with Last Time For Everything’s carpe diem anthemics rousing the soul. Elsewhere, the side-splitting selfie#theinternetisforever wryly dresses down narcissists who tweet inappropriate pictures and One Beer Can kicks out a riotous romp about a partying teenager busted by his parents. Go To Bed Early, too, treats us to another of Brad’s superior adult love songs. But The Devil is Alive and Well also ruminates on humanity’s darker side, while sadness abounds in the voyeuristic Contact High.

If that wasn’t enough, ‘Love and War’ is enhanced by some special collaborations. Drive of Shame finds Mick Jagger and Paisley unfurling a swaggering countrified rock ‘n’ roll number that sounds like Tumbling Dice and Brown Sugar trashing the Grand Ole Opry. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, meanwhile, contributes his ire to the title track, a fierce diatribe about the disgusting treatment of Vietnam veterans: “They send you off to die for us, forget about you when you don’t.”  

More surprising, but no less effective, are the plucky bluegrass of Grey Goose Chase and commercially shimmering Solar Power Girl, two collaborations where Timbaland adds his rhythmic skills in a way that subtly complements and elevates their pure country backbone.  

But if those team-ups impress, Gold All Over The Ground and Dying To See Her are emotively mesmerising show-stealers. The former was sculpted by Paisley from a poem Johnny Cash (who gets a co-write credit) penned for his wife June Carter while the latter, featuring Bill Anderson, immediately follows and recalls how Brad’s uncle gave up on life after his wife died as he wanted to reunite with her in heaven. That it echoes the man in black’s marital story only adds to the pair’s emotional power.

‘Love and War’ may be the album Paisley needed to make to prove he wasn’t stuck in a comfortable rut as a lovable Nashville statesman and beloved host of the CMAs, but the fact it’s possibly the finest album of his career will also silence critics of the nicest man in music who isn’t named Dave Grohl.

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