Brad Paisley, "Wheelhouse" (Arista Nashville)
The title of Brad Paisley's new album, "Wheelhouse," could imply the country music star is sticking with what he does best. Indeed, the 17-song album -- the first in which he's listed as sole producer -- presents several songs extending his reputation for clever, sometimes comic, twists on love ("Death of a Married Man"), modern life ("Beat This Summer") and sentimental romanticism ("I Can't Change the World").
But Paisley also has a history of taking chances, and that's never been truer than on his new album. The song "Accidental Racist" opens with a guy being confronted by a Starbucks clerk for wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt that features a Confederate flag. The lyrics go on to explore the tension between "Southern pride and Southern blame," complete with a rap break by LL Cool J.
"Southern Comfort Zone" similarly confronts the regionalism that leads some Southerners -- and many current country singers -- to boast about life in the rural South. Paisley loves where he's from, he sings, but acknowledges that seeing the world has opened his mind to the perspective of others in a positive way.
Yes, Paisley knows what he does well. But "Wheelhouse" proves he's not content with playing it safe.