This is my first written review of new music and wine. I love music, I love wine—seems like a natural fit, right? This particular album was not only the most anticipated release of the week, but was also making some headlines, so I download the “Deluxe Edition” and pushed play. Let me start with a little background information…
I love country music. I kinda have to, having grown up in Texas and all. Like Dill Scallion‘s sidekick Bubba Pearl, I live and breath country music, but probably not the country music a lot of you are aware of. Top 40 country music writ large is—and I realize this is a blanket statement—horrible. Sure, there’s telecasters and pedal steel guitars, fiddles and dobros, and sweet harmonies about heartbreak, mama, trains, hometown high school football, bonfires on Friday nights, boots, drinkin’ and the rest, but it’s mostly artificial. All of the above-mentioned country song memes exist—and there’s a large group of people that are sure proud of all of them—but it’s hard to buy the authenticity of a bedazzled blue jean and flip-flop wearin’ “country boy” with frosted hair. The current “Nashville Sound” is pretty much pop music with pedal steels and an occasional fiddle played to 3rd grade level rhymes about true love, Jesus, and America. And I’m not knockin’ it per se—sometimes you sing for the money, ’cause “by God, you gotta put food on the table” —but the “rawness” of country music has gotten packaged a little too tightly in a reusable Whole Foods grocery bag.
I give this somewhat scathing primer with the note that there is some top 40 country music that I enjoy and several of the artists making said music are talented singers, songwriters, and/or musicians. Enter Brad Paisley. I won’t pull punches here and say that he’s not a bit of a pop-country artist, but I will say this—Brad Paisley knows country music and is the best damn guitar player on the planet. Period. He’s far from my favorite country artist, but I always tune in to any video of him playing a telecaster, ’cause he has no equal in that department. And he seems like a good dude (the late, great Andy Griffith thought enough of him to give him the acoustic guitar he played on the porch with Opie, Aunt Bee, et. al. after a hard day of sheriffin’ Mayberry), and he sings from the heart.
And he has good-lookin’ hair. But above all that, he’s the best guitar player alive on the planet. I’d quit drinkin’ wine if I could play a telecaster half as well as he does (I wouldn’t give up my cold beer or whiskey, though, ’cause, you know—I’m country).
Well, that was a bit longer of an intro than I intended, but I had to get that off my chest. Let’s move on:
I decided sitting on the patio and sipping a white Primieres Cotes de Bordeaux (yes, white wines are produced in Bordeaux) on what appeared to be the first actual spring-like day in the nation’s capital region was a good place to start. I’d already listened to the entire “Wheelhouse” album twice and even repeated a few individual songs a couple more times while out and about, but decided to sit down with a glass and give this album a third critical listen while organizing my earlier notes and giving my thoughts on each track.
But before we start up the virtual jukebox, let’s have a drink…
2011 Cheval Quancard, Cotes de Bordeaux, France
This is a sweet white blend (intended as a dessert wine) of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. For no particular reason whatsoever, I decided a dessert wine was appropriate for the warm spring afternoon.
The nose on this wine was a rush of honey, apricot, date, and maybe a little plum/prune—think “healthy” breakfast cereal with a little sugar.
The palate was intense, with sweet fruit and honey, but also enough acid to balance the wine fairly well. I’ll get back to the wine in a minute, though.
Track 1: Bon Voyage
This track is a soundboard mishmash with travel sounds and the aural illusion an old knob radio changing stations.
Track 2: Southern Comfort Zone
Sounds like Brad took some production notes from The Lumineers. There’s a choir, a mash-up of southern-y song clips and voiceovers (yup, Andy of Mayberry is in there), and a message of exploration and sharing—think Sesame Street with a fiddle. I ain’t particularly fond of this one. That said, I’m sure this will hit the country charts and be fairly popular, even though it never mentions the sweet liqueur that shares two-thirds of its name with the title.
Track 3: Beat This Summer
This is the first single released from the album. This is a feel good summer lovin’ song! I’ll look a little past the cheese factor here, ’cause who doesn’t love a song about an endless summer with a newfound love? And the guitar work is pretty good, but that’s no real surprise, now is it? I’m not the biggest fan of this song, either, but it’s already number 24 on the Billboard Country Chart, so no need for ol’ Brad to be upset with my opinion of it.
Let me get something off my chest before I discuss this song: it used to be, when two artists performed on a track together, it was called a duet. And I actually had to Google Hunter Hayes, but apparently my awareness of new, young country acts took a permanent vacation when Taylor Swift hit the scene.
Well, this one starts out sounding like George Thorogood did a recording at Sun Studios. And it’s just littered with “country clichés” and an old Roger Miller sample (from “Dang Me,” if you’re interested). I’m sure this will get a lot of play in the types of “fields” mentioned in the title. That said, I just didn’t like this, despite the great guitar work and pretty decent turn of phrase on the end of the hook. By the third listen, though, this song grew on me a little, and I’m pretty sure I won’t hit next every time it comes up on my iPod playlist.
Track 5: Pressing a Bruise (featuring Mat Kearney)
I had high(er) hopes for this one before the chorus. But for the guitar licks, this track is awful. I Googled Mat Kearney, too. I didn’t care enough to listen to any of his solo work after not liking this track—on this song, Mr. Kearney sounded like Beck, if Beck had performed rap vocals (which he didn’t) on his country album Sea Change (which I personally love, by the way). I was sad I had to hear this one three times.
Track 6: I Can’t Change The World
This song has several sentiments, and I’m not sure they’re exactly cohesive, but this song works. It’s sort of sweet in its own way, and I’m sure it’ll see some spins at a wedding or two this spring and summer. Once again, the best thing about this track is the guitar, but I liked it a bit better on a third listen (and a glass of wine in) than I initially did.
Track 7: Chinese Symbols (that I can’t get to paste properly)
This is a minute and thirty-nine second self-indulgent picking tune featuring Paisley’s telecaster, pedal steel, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. It’s fun, and you’ll never hear me criticize Paisley for indulging us with his fretboard prowess.
Track 8: Karate (featuring Charlie Daniels)
This is a bit of a women’s empowerment—err, revenge—song. It’s got a catchy melody and it’s as cute as a song about domestic abuse can be. Think of this song as a less-violent version of the Dixie Chicks‘ “Goodbye Earl” sang by a dude, with chorus chanting reminiscent of The Lumineers or Fun. And a Charlie Daniels rap breakdown for good measure.
Track 9: Death of a Married Man (featuring Eric Idle)
Yeah, that says Eric Idle. And yes, it’s that Eric Idle. Nothing screams country music quite like Monty Python royalty, right? This is a funny little forty-eight second track.
Track 10: Harvey Bodine
I don’t want to give too much away with this one, but it’s not quite the song about dying and going to Heaven you might expect from the first couple of lines. This one has a bit of an “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” feel to it, and it may very well have been written for a stage production. This is easily my favorite offering to this point.
Track 11: Tin Can On A String
Well, surprise! This song isn’t about making those tin can telephones we see kids make in old-timey movies; it’s about lost love and what might have been, and is a pop-country ballad that delivers. It’s not my favorite on the album, but objectively, it’s one of the best-written songs on the album (at least to this point).
Track 12: Death of a Single Man
This little country-bluesy shuffle utilizes a great back and forth between a telecaster, a pedal steel, and a fiddle. This song is brilliantly written, scored, and performed. “Death of a Single Man” made me think a bit, ’cause I’m not sure if I liked it as much or more than “Harvey Bodine.” “Nothin’ says it’s over man, like a bad 80s cover band.” Awesome line.
Track 13: The Mona Lisa
Alright, by this point in the album, I was certain The Lumineers snuck into the studio to do some backing tracks. This mid-to-up tempo, overproduced country number is fun, has a decent hook to it and will probably make some country girl swoon a bit when a country boy plays it for her as she slides up next to him in the Super Duty on the way to the local Dairy Queen or drive-in movie; or steals a few of the lyrics for a Birthday, Anniversary, or Valentine’s Day card. I, for one, will totally blast this song—sunroof open, highway speed at some point.
Track 14: Accidental Racist (featuring LL Cool J)
I’ll start my thoughts on this tune with this: I like the music track and the melody of this song. The guitar work on this track is nice—think of Jeff Healey’s or Jeff Beck’s “softer, bluesy” work, but with a “message”—the message being it’s important to understand others’ points of view, even when said others are intentionally “unintentionally” offensive (in this case, racist). I’m guessing LL Cool J’s participation was supposed to give this misses-the-mark sermon song some legitimacy, but at best, it comes off as really, really odd. And forced.
Track 15: Runaway Train
This “train song” is mediocre, not near as raucous or growly as it should be, and is worth a skip, but for the guitar.
Track 16: Those Crazy Christians
Going into this one, I figured it would be a pandery, syrupy, “everybody loves Jesus” pop-country overload. I was wrong. The soft Run DMC drum track in the beginning plays well against the churchy, country ballad piano. It’s sort of about questioning and maybe a little about personal (and spiritual) redemption, but isn’t an in-your-face, overly preachy song about church and God and ‘Merica one might expect from a country act. Once again, the guitar work is impeccable, and this is probably Paisley’s best vocal performance on the entire album.
Track 17: Officially Alive
Huh? This is a country-ish, feel-good pop song that Fun could perform. And I don’t want to read too much into it, but I feel like this song at least tacitly speaks in support of same-sex marriage. It’s not a great song by any stretch, but it does provide chanty, sing-along fun (and a generically encouraging “be your own person” message).
Track 18: Yankee Doodle Dixie (Bonus Track)
This track is an [mostly] instrumental minute and twelve seconds of self-indulgence.
Track 19: Facebook Friends (Bonus Track)
This song is exactly what you’d think it would be about given the title, except not! It’s a cheatin’ song for the 21st Century! Plus, there’s the bonus of the world finally having an entire song about the Facebooks! I see a lot of Facebooks passwords changing after folks hear this song. This is a decent little modern country ballad that I actually like.
Track 20 Get Even (Bonus Track)
This is a nice little country song right here! Honky-tonk barroom noise at a high level. I mean, how awesome is the lyric “two can cheat at this game?” Pretty awesome, that’s how! The music’s great (yeah, especially the guitar), the lyrics are great, and the pace of the song is great. I’d love to hear this one live in a smoky little bar. This is the song on this album I’d be most likely to listen to again and again.
Track 21: Southern Comfort Zone [Acoustic Version] (Bonus Track)
The “real” version of this song will be an anthemy hit for sure. I still don’t love the song, but the acoustic version is way better, in my opinion. More heart, more feeling, more better.
Overall, I’d give this album an average rating. I loved four of the songs, thought a couple were decent enough, and hated a few. If you like modern country, you’ll like this album well enough and think I’m nuts for criticizing a few of these songs. If you like Brad Paisley, you’ll definitely enjoy this album. Even a non-country fan could probably find something to like about this, but I wouldn’t recommend the entire album—grab a song or two (notably “Harvey Bodine” and “Death of a Single Man,” if for no other reason than to give a listen to a style of music you’re not as familiar with). If you want the entire album, go ahead and shell out the extra couple of bucks for the Deluxe Version, ’cause not having “Get Even” as part of this collection would be a shame.
As for the wine, it’s not a bad go, either. It is sweet. It is fruity. Having warmed a bit (but still chilled), this wine was even more intense. It was a bit syrupy right out of the coolerator. I wouldn’t pull the cork on another bottle of this wine without pairing it with a bite to eat. This wine would pair beautifully with pastries or ice cream for a dessert course, and would probably do well on a warm day with some cheese if you’re more inclined to drink sweet(er) wines just ’cause. At $12 or so, it’s worth buying, if for no other reason than to try a style of wine you may not be familiar with.
Cheers from the Patio at CorkEnvy,