Editor’s note: Captured live in New Orleans, Brad Paisley’s Muddi Gras concert special premieres Friday (March 11) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.
It is mildly ironic that a performer so ideally suited to the camera would begin his video career with a clip called “Who Needs Pictures.” But that’s the vehicle with which the marvelously photogenic Brad Paisley made his debut in 1999.
With its bittersweet theme of love lost but not forgotten, “Who Needs Pictures” is not dramatic nor is it especially memorable for its story. However, it is an effective introduction to the singer’s minutely expressive face and sculpted good looks.
Paisley also used this first video to make a statement about his love of fishing, an obsession that would come to full flower three years later in “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” In the opening scene of “Pictures,” he tells a friend on the phone that “I still haven’t found my fishing license” but promises he’ll go angling early the next morning.
As in every video that follows, Paisley is bareheaded in some scenes in “Pictures” and cowboy-hatted in others, perhaps implying that he’s a “hat act” and more. While he is shown here playing the guitar, there is no hint of how really good he is at it, nor does it convey even a glimpse of his rich sense of humor.
“He Didn’t Have to Be” (1999) is another depiction of Paisley’s soft side. In it, he’s the grown-up stepson of an extraordinarily gentle and understanding stepfather. Together, they wait outside a delivery room for Paisley’s baby to be born while the song choruses “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.” At the end, Paisley tenderly cradles the newborn in his hands.
Then, in 2000, came “Me Neither.” Besides being built around a terrific loser’s song, the video is a showcase for Paisley’s guitar virtuosity and good ol’ boy playfulness. It chronicles Paisley and his band on tour and spotlights all the hijinks that life on a bus and stage entails. Paisley is so at ease and unguarded in front of the camera that this has all the looseness and informality of a home video. Andy Griggs makes a very brief appearance.
“Two People Fell in Love” (2001) is homey, small-townish and basically forgettable since, except for one segment, it pretty much reduces Paisley to the role of benign narrator. The outdoor scenes are pleasant, though, and the final shot of the bored-looking baby provides a welcome touch of whimsy.
Paisley directed the video for “Wrapped Around” (2001) and does a magnificent job handling the two little kids who play young lovers. By this time in his career, Paisley is headlining his own concerts, and there are plenty of shots showing how smoothly he relates to the crowd — and how rabidly it relates to him. In one scene, he’s in a bumper car with Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely.
“I’m Gonna Miss Her” (2002) is the cinematic summation of all things Paisley — his fishing fixation, picking prowess, affection for country music traditionalists and firm grasp of popular culture. His soon-to-be-wife, actress Kimberly Williams, plays the long-suffering woman who kicks him out because he prefers fishing to loving. He even works a few of his close buddies — Little Jimmy Dickens, producer Frank Rogers and songwriter Kelley Lovelace — into the video.
There’s so much going on here, so many in-jokes and subtle twists, you wish you had a Cliffs Notes to guide you through it all. Paisley does some fine acting, too, with an arched eyebrow here, a guilty grin there. The supporting cast includes Jerry Springer, Little Jimmy Dickens and sportscaster Dan Patrick.
“I Wish You’d Stay” (2002), which Paisley co-directed, lets him run the gamut of pensive expressions — and he has plenty of them. But we didn’t really need the heavy-handed symbolism of the bird being set free.
Although he’s the center stage guitar slinger in “Sharp Dressed Man” (2002), Paisley turns over most of his usual comedic chores to Griggs, Tracy Byrd, Bill Anderson and the members of Lonestar, who play preening, inept fashion models.
William Shatner, as the dyspeptic talent-show judge, damn near steals the show in “Celebrity” (2003). But Paisley holds his own playing the Dairy Queen dreamer who hopes to trump substance with style. He also does a vicious little takeoff on Michael Jackson. Comic actor Jason Alexander, usually a master of subtleties, monstrously overacts in the scene in which he’s served the wrong kind of fancy coffee. The parody is broad, but the individual nuances are priceless. It features cameos by Jim Belushi and Dickens.
“Little Moments” (2003) is a lighthearted look at the quirky things that hold couples together. And looking at the couples involved here, you know they need all the endearing quirkiness they can get. Except at the end, where he and his wife Kimberly spat cutely at each other, Paisley is once again the affectionate narrator.
“Whiskey Lullaby” (2004) is such a powerful and somber song that Paisley leaves the heavy duty acting to Rick Schroder. Paisley and duet partner Alison Krauss simply stand and sing. Schroder plays a soldier who returns to find his sweetheart in bed with another man. His shock and her guilt set them both on a downward spiral of drinking that ultimately takes their lives. Moving though it is, this is the least Paisley video yet.
But Paisley’s back — picking and grinning full force — in “Mud on the Tires” (2004). With buxom women, scanty clothing and all that mud to wrestle in, how can it get any better? Paisley’s beaming face says it can’t.