Wheelhouse by Brad Paisley

With clever splices of sonic experimentation and songs that run from fanciful to downright serious, Wheelhouse seems to stand as Brad’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it’s quite that monumental, to be clear. But it is a declarative statement that Brad is branching out in a more divergent path than ever before.

Snippets of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” lead into “Outstanding in Our Field,” featuring guest spots by Dierks Bentley and Hunter Hayes, while other tracks are opened with old radio broadcasts, dialogue from The Andy Griffith Show and the crowing of a rooster (shades of Sgt. Pepper’s “Good Morning,” perhaps?).

Wheelhouse even brings to mind The Beatles’ Abbey Road with its own “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in “Harvey Bodine,” which tackles a somewhat morbid theme with catchy verses and melody. Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame makes a guest appearance on the track, another indication that Brad is looking to fly without the proverbial net.

And certain to cause discussion is “Accidental Racist,” a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover polemic featuring a spoken, self-important rap (isn’t that redundant?) from LL Cool J. No one wants to discourage this sort of subject matter, and country could definitely use more of it, but frankly, this has about as much sociological insight as a fortune cookie.

That said, the musicianship on Wheelhouse is incredible and Brad just keeps on getting more flavorful as a guitarist. Serious music buffs are going to love Wheelhouse, while cursory fans may be left scratching their heads. But that’s what happens when you refuse to play it safe. 

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