Mitchell: Stalwarts stretch; newcomer toes the line

Paisley tried to stretch out and explore new territory but his fans have mostly not followed.

Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (Arista)

Brad Paisley has stepped way outside his usual mainstream country ‘wheelhouse.’ That is his safe spot where he could be assured he would hit a homerun with yet another familiar country album and a few more hit singles.

But in his liner notes Paisley says his success has allowed him to tour the world and be exposed to so much more than small town, southern USA culture and it is this that Wheelhouse addresses.

But the controversy of his misguided country/rap duet with LL Cool J on Accidental Racist has overtaken what was supposed to be regarded as a more eclectic, explorative album. This slice of right-hearted but wrong-headed polemics isn’t so bad for the revised history and specious sociology but more so in that it is just a bad song with no enduring qualities.

But this seems to have killed off the rest of Wheelhouse which has a few OK songs even if it is Paisley’s weakest album in an otherwise strong catalogue.

The second radio-friendly single, Beat This Summer, stalled in the charts even though the album hit No.1 on the country charts and No.2 on the all genre charts.

Fans will find more than a few satisfying country songs (especially on the 63-minute, 21-track expanded version) on Wheelhouse that is getting a worse rap (sorry) than it deserves.

Paisley tried to stretch out and explore new territory but his fans have mostly not followed.


Kenny Chesney: Life On A Rock (Columbia)

Covering Chesney along with Brad Paisley and Tate Stevens looks like an all-country column but it isn’t really. The new Chesney album is country in name only and more of a singer/songwriter’s album.

You will hear more campfire acoustic guitars, steel drums and bongos on Life On A Rock and nary a fiddle, banjo, twangy guitar or mandolin.

Chesney seems to be turning into Jack Johnson with an album of beach music as he rides his yacht from island to island while ruminating on his overly laid back life style.

Chesney has also written all but three of the songs here and only one of them has an up-tempo pulse. The lead off song Pirate Flag even has a hint of The Grateful Dead in its lyrics with “what a long strange trip” while Chesney channels a little Roger Miller (King Of The Road) on his duet Coconut Tree with Willie Nelson.

The stand out track here is Spread The Love, recorded with the remaining Wailers (of Bob Marley fame) where the backing singers recall The I-Threes.

Chesney offers a mellow character sketch on Lindy and an observational theme on When I See This Bar where again the overall feel is that of someone who is so busy working at being unhurried and relaxed that he nearly sounds bored.

The closing song, Happy On The Hey Now (A Song For Kristi), appears to be an elegy for a passed away friend—the Hey Now being the name of his boat while the song, Its That Time Of Day, says goodbye to one port as Chesney heads to his next.

One photo in the liner struck me and that was of a half dozen girls jumping off his boat—maybe if they were jumping on Chesney would not sound as dour as he occasionally does on a few of the songs found on Life On A Rock.

You know, no man is an island.


Tate Stevens: (Simco/RCA)

He was the winner of the last edition of The X Factor and this eponymous album is Tate Stevens’ first major label album.

The truth is, Stevens is something of a veteran on the country scene but a veteran with an unstoried past. He released an indie country album 15 years ago but his road band didn’t earn enough to continue.

His latest success on The X Factor has given the nearly 40-year-old country singer his first real shot at the big time and he isn’t taking any chances with this debut. This is a fairly standard fare, new traditionalist country album that is super radio-friendly with just the right mix of rockers and dewy-eyed ballads to keep conservative country fans buying mostly what they have always bought before.

The single Power Of A Love Song says all the right things in its title without really saying anything.

The standout track here is the truckers song The Last Thing I Do that has a Six Days On The Road vibe, while the arena tune Holler If You’re With Me should be a crowd pleaser if The X Factor road show ever hits the blacktop.

On his CD cover Tate can be seen rolling up his sleeves as no doubt he knows this is his last chance at the big leagues.



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