Brad Paisley – “This Is Country Music”
“This Is Country Music,” a song that Brad Paisley debuted on the CMA Awards show last month, has soared up the charts and earned raves from fans who relate to the familiar topics: trucks and tractors, Mama and little towns. All things that are good and fine and well. This is just the type of song that tends to inspire fist pumps and a few head nods, one that insists the genre’s greatness is beyond dispute.
Paisley also proves his musical chops here, but the real treasure is an ample dose of fiddle and banjo that quickly gets shuffled to the background in favor of his showy electric guitar playing. As country radio begins spinning ballads for the winter season, “This Is Country Music” manages to stand out for the sound of Paisley’s trusty Telecaster, as unnecessary as it is, pushing forward his message.
While that message–country music is the greatest music–may be a worthy one, the presentation here is awkward and forced. As the reigning Entertainer of the Year, Paisley, with his aw-shucks grin and awe-inspiring guitar skills, has emerged as Music Row’s leading ambassador, presenting modern country with a traditional bent. He’d seem to be the perfect spokesman for the format, but he presents some shaky arguments for what makes country music so valuable. It very well may be the last province for artists singing about Jesus or cancer, but those subjects aren’t always written about with any emotional insight. And it’s not just country music fans that have to handle life’s challenges and heartaches, just as it’s not the mere presence of country concepts–Jack Daniels, dirt roads, dead grandpas–that make a great song.
Nashville has become the home for nearly all of popular music’s commentary on the military, so when Paisley uses the third verse to address the fallen soldiers, the emotion does come across as warm and genuine. “Are you haunted by the echo of your mother on the phone,” he sings over a whining steel guitar. “Crying as she tells you that your brother isn’t coming home?” The rest of the subjects he sings about–a boss-hatin’ employee, a fun-lovin’ Friday night partier, for starters–are described in only the simplest terms, the perfect design for an ADD listener.
The vocal performance is humble and heartfelt as usual, but Paisley struggles when operating in his upper register, especially in the song’s weak chorus: “Turn it on, turn it up, and sing along,” he suggests. “This is real, this is your life in a song.”
“This Is Country Music” becomes the latest in a growing line of songs about songs, and one eventually gets worn down by the “I’m country” argument that have become a staple of the genre. Thou doth protest too much, yes? That Paisley rattles off a series of classic country song titles like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Stand By Your Man” only invites unfavorable comparisons to this piece of pandering. The song is likely to split listeners into two different camps: “This Is Country Music!” and “This Is Country Music?” The new National Anthem it’s not, but it’s bound to be Paisley’s next chart-topping smash.
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