(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Ten years on in his country music career, Brad Paisley is often overlooked as a major architect of the structure that is modern country music. There were very good reasons why he was awarded three major Buckle honors at the CMT Music Awards show on June 16. Country fans clearly acknowledge what he is doing for the music — since they voted him more awards than anyone else. I think this very clearly amounts to the fact that they were thanking him for trying to make country music what it ought to be.
I’m not saying he’s a genius or anything. I don’t think we have any around today. Personally, I never want to hear Paisley’s song “Ticks” again. The reason being that I think it’s a waste of his considerable talents. And I suspect that sometimes he takes a too-obvious approach in being sentimental with a song such as “He Didn’t Have to Be.” But that’s OK. He’s got plenty of other songs I want to hear and enjoy listening to. I don’t mean this as any kind of testimonial, but I think Paisley is due some thanks for what he’s done and is still doing.
Besides building a significant and rewarding body of songs, Paisley has also — importantly — raised musical standards a significant amount since he started recording in Nashville in 1999.
He got to Nashville as one of many Belmont University music students who are working in country music today, including his producer Frank Rogers and co-writer Kelley Lovelace.
His career launched 10 years ago last February with the song “Who Needs Pictures,” and he continues to strive to write and/or record songs as good as that.
His magnificent recording of “Whiskey Lullaby” (written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall) with Alison Krauss is unmatched in modern country for a genuine sense of the gothic majesty of country music’s long tragedy-steeped traditions while still translating it to current sensibilities. And that’s not an easy thing to do.
What I think he has stood for is a genuine attempt for sincerity and authenticity in his songwriting and musicianship (especially his flair on lead guitar), his obvious devotion to family ties and his respect for tradition and heritage.
Finally, I don’t think he’s gotten the attention he deserves for his music videos. More than any other modern country star, Paisley has paid so much careful attention to his videos that he almost single-handedly caused the country industry to follow him in elevating the genre. The storytelling, the attention to detail, the careful casting of celebrities, his own animations — all of these mark Paisley videos.
His new album American Saturday Night touches on those musical elements and elaborates on his approach to today’s country. Plus, he still knows how to have a good time, as the cuts “Catch All the Fish” and “Water” show. In what has become a Paisley trademark, there’s a tale of Grandpa’s wisdom, with “No.” Listen especially to “Welcome to the Future,” Paisley and Chris DuBois’ well-written wrap-up of the future as now. It’s so good that Paisley reprises it here twice. The first is a short, acoustic account of meeting his wife-to-be and the life that has ensued, and the second is a hidden track, a blistering instrumental version.
Many of Paisley’s contributions to music have been intangible and show in the numerous ways he tries to keep the music on track, to keep it country, to keep it from veering off into impossible ventures into bombastic pop country and to keep it from turning into a cartoon version of itself. And I do mean “tries.” No one person can keep this ungainly, unmannered creature in line. But when it comes to taking true pride in what is now being presented as country music, Paisley has quietly done as much or more than any other person I can think of.