Brad Paisley has decided to take control of things.
While his 2011 album, "This Is Country Music," was a little too agreeable and pandering, on "Wheelhouse" (Arista Nashville), he is out to ruffle some feathers. It's Paisley's first self-produced album, and he wrote or co-wrote all 14 songs, which turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.
Paisley offers plenty of worthy new entries to his already-lengthy catalog of country hits. "Beat This Summer" is a catchy, carefree tribute to seasonal love, while "Southern Comfort Zone" celebrates life in Tennessee. He's at his best, though, on "Death of a Single Man," where he travels from sly Lyle Lovett country to guitar showcase and back again, as he laments the effect of a friend's marriage on his poker game.
It's clear, though, that Paisley needs the occasional outside voice of reason. Maybe the nonsensical nature of "I Can't Change the World," where he argues that changing his woman's world won't have any effect on anything else, can be forgiven as a sales-pitch love song. However, when he tries to tackle race relations in "Accidental Racist," with a non-apology apology for wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt, things go wrong, even though LL Cool J's rap cameo helps a little. And Paisley's odd defense of Christians in "Those Crazy Christians" may not actually deliver the point he's trying to make.
"Wheelhouse" would be a lot stronger if Paisley would have sought a little more input on some of these songs and taken a little more advice.
BOTTOM LINE Taking chances with his established country