It seems like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t when it comes to having a favorable opinion on certain artists, and Brad Paisley is no exception. Should I think he’s a corny, middle-aged guy rehashing the same stuff he’s been doing for the past decade or so, or should I be freely open and say that I think Brad Paisley is still one of the good guys in mainstream country music? Personally I’m going with the latter, and depending on which stance you take, this might affect your stance on his new album, Love & War.
Because let’s get this out of the way, while Love & War by Brad Paisley certainly isn’t breaking new ground for him as an artist, I’d argue it’s a very good album that’s a good return to form for him after the decent, but not all that memorable Moonshine In The Trunk. Believe it or not there’s a lot to unpack with this record as well given that it’s sixteen tracks, so let’s get started.
First of all, the album is very collaboration heavy, and the results are better than expected. Timbaland’s contributions towards “Grey Goose Chase” and “Solar Power Girl” aren’t (thankfully) the weird tracks I was expecting. The former is an infectious bluegrass-esque fun breakup song while the latter focuses in on a story of a girl whose life is clouded in darkness (therefore, needing a change, a “light” if you will). It’s a tad strange to call her a solar power girl, and there’s moments on this track that can be a bit weird, but it’s an interesting choice of wordplay – I dig it.
“Drive Of Shame” with Mick Jagger is also a pretty fun and humorous tune that lets the two men show off their guitar skills. Surprisingly enough the only collaboration I wanted more from was “Dying To See Her” (and we’ll get to that later) with Bill Anderson, mostly because you can barely hear ol’ Bill during the track (I know he’s Whisperin’ Bill but come on…).
Of course, the best collaboration is “Gold All Over The Ground”, a poem written by Mr. Johnny Cash in 1967 (for June of course) that was later published in 2016 in the Johnny Cash poem collection, Forever Words. I’m honestly not one for love songs, but there’s just something about the production that I love about this one. The soft acoustic bedrock is nice, as is the subtle mandolin and fiddle that creep their way in throughout the song. It also helps that Brad is surprisingly enough always pretty great at handling these types of tracks. It’s a cool idea to put the poem to music, and of all of the collaborations, again, it gets my vote for the best one creatively speaking.
Other than that, like I said, this is definitely a Brad Paisley album, and while I’ve seen all sorts of opinions regarding this album, I think for the most part is sticks the landing. It’s honestly pretty surprising that Brad could stretch the concept of “One Beer Can” (which is literally about one beer can that these parents find in their home left by their son) out without it feeling stale, and while some have found it cheesy, I also find the concept of “Today” endearing, and it’s another one where I like the buildup of the production throughout the song. Additionally, while I can relate to some of those people he makes fun of in “selfie#theinternetisforever”, I also found the track pretty humorous as well, but again, I think one’s opinion on that track will depend on how they’ve typically viewed these types of tracks from Brad.
While we’re slowly pouring through the good stuff on here, I might as well take the time to talk about more of my favorites as well (besides “Gold All Over The Ground”). “Last Time For Everything” is a track that hits me pretty hard at this point in my life as I acknowledge that making the memories now is important seeing as how I can’t make them again or relive them further down the road. While I did have a little nitpick with “Dying To See Her”, I can’t deny that it’s another highlight as well. The tone is more liquid and somber, and while I could see the concept of this man literally dying so he can see his wife again from a mile away given the title (interesting that it comes right after the Johnny Cash penned tune though), the writing on it really is smart, and the emotion is there for this type of song.
Now, at sixteen tracks, we’ve already talked about the good songs, but there are also some duds as well. “Heaven South” is a little too cute and checklist for me to really say I enjoyed all that much, and while I wouldn’t say “Contact High” is really a bad song necessarily, I would say that it’s not my thing at all.
Outside of perhaps the acknowledgement of growing older (and perhaps not following the younger crowd?), the concept of “Go To Bed Early” also doesn’t really go anywhere either (although it’s got a good foundation).
Of course, there’s one track here that really hasn’t set well with me, and if you follow me on Twitter, you knew this was coming. Now, I think it’s important to note that there is sort of the running theme throughout this album of love & war, or really, love and hate. Love, or better yet, a sense of hope is embodied in tracks such as “Heaven South”, “Last Time…”, “Solar Power Girl” and “Meaning Again”. A sense of darkness looms over tracks like the title track and one other track – “The Devil Is Alive And Well”.
The first time I heard that last song, I absolutely hated it. I understood the message of it, and I do think it’s horrible that we have as many tragedies in the world as we do. However, I didn’t like the concept of saying that this means the devil is “well” or that God isn’t doing God’s part to combat evil. However, after realizing that there were tracks like “Solar”, “Heaven South” and others that I mentioned, I realized there was more to it than that.
Now keep in mind, this is the first time I’ve ever really ever went outside a discussion of music for an actual review, but I feel like this is a special exception. After all, these are just my thoughts, and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to follow suit, so either skip right to the end to see the grade (spoiler alert, there isn’t one) or keep reading. Anyhow…
The problem of evil is something I’ve studied in school before, and there, I studied many theodicies (things that try to explain how evil in the world exists). We get Brad’s philosophy, and really, that’s all my disliking of the track boils down to – a difference in philosophy. Hell, we ramble on about musical philosophy every damn day it seems, but this is a real problem facing us.
Personally, I’m more of a fan of Marilyn McCord Adams line of philosophy that states that what matters is when those evils are defeated for us. How? By granting us all salvation and restoration in Christ someday (when that day comes). It is more complicated than this, and we are talking about an album here, but I can’t walk away without stating why that song in particular doesn’t sit well with me. Again, I understand the intent and think the path to get there is well executed. The final destination isn’t.
Whoo boy…where were we? Oh yeah, our conclusion. So overall, I would say this album is a step in the right direction for Brad. I do think it’s more consistently good than great, and at sixteen tracks it may be hard to hold your attention the full way through, but I also think there are more than enough highlights to satisfy not only traditional Paisley fans, but others as well.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: Here’s the thing, I don’t want to give a grade for this project. I feel that due to my problem with “The Devil Is Alive and Well”, my grade will be skewed either way. However, I would say it’s worth your time and a good album, so take that as you will. Welcome back buddy, really.
Best Tracks: “Gold All Over The Ground”, “Dying To See Her (w/ Bill Anderson)”, “Last Time For Everything”, “One Beer Can”, “Grey Goose Chase (w/ Timbaland)”
Worst Track: “The Devil Is Alive and Well”