Brad Paisley is a clever guy—sometimes too much for his own good. On his last few albums, he’s occasionally allowed his trademark lyrical wit to curdle into cutesiness and condescension, while his musical ambition allowed those albums to go on a little too long. Both of those mild weaknesses are left in the dust on 5th Gear—named for its status as Brad’s fifth album, but just as applicable to the high level at which his talent is operating these days.
This time around, Brad’s sense of humor remains wry without ever slipping into smugness, while his musical vision finally sustains an album of epic (by country standards) length and breadth. The hour-plus 5th Gear stretches on for 16 tracks, plus a couple of fun hidden bonuses, without ever sputtering. The mix of fun, emotion, spirituality and out-and-out comedy is certainly a very familiar one for Brad, but there’s no reason to complain when everything here shifts into gear so perfectly.