Brad Paisley: This Is Country Music

Brad Paisley’s ninth studio album, This Is Country Music, is the most consistent offering from start to finish of his 12-year career. Despite numerous guest appearances (including Don Henley, Alabama, Clint Eastwood, and features duets with Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton), the fact that Paisley is the star of the show is a true testament to his distinctive musical identity.

Starting off with the first two singles “This Is Country Music” (the previous number two hit), and “Old Alabama” (his Alabama homage and seventeenth number one single), the album immediately lives up to its name. The latter song includes snippets of some of country group Alabama’s best known hits, as well as guest vocals by band members Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry, while the title track includes such lyrics as “You’re not supposed to say the word cancer in a song/And telling folks that Jesus is the answer can rub ‘em wrong/But this is country music and we do/So turn it on and turn it up and sing along.”

The album’s tone is set by the two aforementioned hits and continues throughout, as evidenced in the Rivers Rutherford penned “A Man Don’t Have to Die,” where Paisley sings “It’s payments that you can’t make on a house that you can’t sell/See, a man don’t have to die to go to hell,” which is one of only three tracks among the 15 selections not co-written by Paisley.

One noticeable difference between this and previous Paisley albums is a seemingly conscious decision to dial down the gimmicky novelty songs he’s typically associated with, although they do make an appearance on the humorous “Tan,” the witty toe tapper “Toothbrush,” and the tongue-in-cheek duet with Blake Shelton “Don’t Drink the Water.” However, with that being said, the brief comic relief is a welcome and needed element to keep the album’s more serious themes (cancer, foreclosure, and death) in musical balance. Country music doesn’t always have to be a downer, it can also be about fun and having a good time. After all, Paisley has built a career around feel good country anthems, as well as brilliant instrumentals such as the western tribute “Eastwood,” which contains a spoken intro by Clint Eastwood himself. Longtime Paisley producer Frank Rogers helms production duties here, as he does on all of Paisley’s previous musical output; the two make a winning team without becoming predictably formulaic.

This Is Country Music wraps with the southern gospel hymn “Life’s Railway to Heaven” (previously recorded by the Carter Family, Merle Haggard, and Patsy Cline), and features exuberant background vocal harmonies provided by Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow, and Carl Jackson, which brings the album to its close with Paisley repeating the line from the title song’s chorus, “So turn it on and turn it up and sing along.” Paisley’s latest is not just good country music, but an impressive example of today’s country at its finest.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Ronnie Dunn Releases Solo Album

After ending his successful two decade run as part of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, Ronnie Dunn has released his eagerly awaited solo album, and the result was well worth the 20-year wait. Dunn has dug deeper into his formidable songwriting skills and created an album markedly different than anything found in previous Brooks & Dunn fare.

Helming production duties himself, Dunn also wrote or co-wrote nine of the highly anticipated album’s ten tracks with some of Nashville’s heavyweight writers (Craig Wiseman, David Lee Murphy, and Terry McBride) and Dunn himself has called the album “the most important record of my life.”

Ronnie Dunn kicks off with the upbeat fist-pumper “Singer In A Cowboy Band,” and contains top 10 hit “Bleed Red,” as well as the just released follow-up “Cost of Livin’.” Although his recent contribution to the Country Strong soundtrack “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” is unfortunately absent, the 12 tracks included are strong enough to make up for that omission. “Sang in every dive and joint in Oklahoma/Been in every hole-in-the-wall from Memphis to Maine/Mama don’t get it, preacher don’t understand/Why I’m a singer in a cowboy band,” Dunn confesses in the album’s opener, which is followed by two superb heartbreak ballads “I Don’t Dance” and “Your Kind of Love.”

The fast-paced “How Far to Waco” is one of many standouts, and includes a dynamic dose of mariachi style horns featured throughout the track as Dunn sings about closing the distance between himself and his beloved. “Only thing on my mind is getting’ back to my baby again/Highway miles they go so slow/She’s waitin’ down the road from El Paso.”

The notable “Once” is an upbeat track about finding that once in a lifetime kind of love, which is the type of song that Dunn does best, and seems destined to become one of the album’s future radio hits. The album’s only low point is the lackluster, run-of-the-mill sounding “Let the Cowboy Rock,” which ironically sounds like it was an outtake from the last Brooks & Dunn album.

Ronnie Dunn is an admirable solo effort and is as rock-solid as any Brooks & Dunn album, which should appease old and new fans alike. Longtime fans of Dunn will undoubtedly deem it worthwhile to seek out the two exclusive iTunes bonus tracks “Boots & Diamonds” and “King of All Things Lonesome.”

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Alyssa Carlson: This Side of Innocence

 This Side of Innocence

Folk songstress Alyssa Carlson’s independent full-length This Side of Innocence sounds like a midafternoon daydream set to music. The album’s nine tracks are all penned by Carlson herself, with the exception of an exquisite cover version of John Mellencamp’s “Jackie Brown”, which fits in satisfyingly with the rest of the album’s demure sound.

Beginning with opener “Boy From Tennessee”, Carlson’s thin, breathy vocals reveal intimate details of a love gone wrong, but interestingly told from the culprit’s point of view. “I never raised a hand, only an eyebrow/I lied and told her I was with another/Left her crying in the rain,” sings Carlson from her betrayer’s perspective.

The pace quickens on the upbeat “Lonely and the Fool”, which includes a noteworthy harmonica performance by Mando Saenz. “Time was on our side when we wanted to run/The clock was still ticking/I tried to burn a way out,” Carlson confesses during the chorus. Other album highlights include upbeat numbers “The Girl” and “Castle In A Carnival”, but the set’s strongest offering by far is the aforementioned Mellencamp cover “Jackie Brown.”

Carlson’s songwriting skills show promise, but This Side of Innocence is too weighed down by an overabundance of somber, meandering downbeats. Her voice is pleasant but lacking in range or emotional depth, and occasionally becomes wearisome. At times Carlson sounds as if she’s trying not to disturb anyone as she quietly whispers her lyrical revelations.

Putting the few fallacies aside, fans of folk/pop with a slight country flavor will undoubtedly want to give This Side of Innocence a spin to find out if Carlson’s musical style speaks to you personally. The album contains numerous outstanding moments and was impeccably produced by Nashville’s Neilson Hubbard (Don Gallardo, Matthew Perryman Jones). Maybe next time, Carlson could add a little more impulsiveness and diversity into her musical palette and vocal performance.

©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse