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An album review of Brad Paisley’s “Moonshine in the Trunk”

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I’m not your traditional country listener. I never grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m an atheist. I am generally a bleeding-heart liberal. That being said, I strongly feel that some of the most creative lyrical wordplay and poignant music are being created in this genre. Plus, it makes for good driving music, so I continue to listen.

Brad Paisley is one of the more interesting artists in the genre. He always has some kind of message in his albums, but his attempts are often muddled and ham-fisted (see the “Accidental Racist” controversy). He has a keen ear for prodding his conservative base with a more liberal set of politics and social views. This infuriates liberals because he doesn’t go as far as we would like. Contrast this with Kacey Musgraves, whose first album was unabashedly liberal, courted controversy, earned wide praise from liberal commentators and media, and even gained some commercial success. Paisley will never be confused for Musgraves, but in return, he has wider commercial appeal. I’m not enough of a firebrand to demand that Paisley use his platform as a bully pulpit, but I understand the choices he made.

The fine line that Brad Paisley walks is why I enjoy listening to his music. His melodies are generally unoffensive. His lyrics are usually quite clever. Some of his songs espouse politics that appeal to me.

Overall, Moonshine in the Trunk is pretty decent. It’s not a traditional country album, but it isn’t pop, or bro, or rock country either. Half the songs are boring party songs, but the other half are full of thoughtful lyrics. However, it is pretty annoying that this album intersperses the party songs with the thoughtful songs and I get whipsawed from being absolutely bored to thinking about the lyrics.

Crushin’ It – A friend of mine really likes this song, but I think the narrator’s resignation to alcohol is kind of sad. (“I figured this out in college […] that I was going to wind up near the bottom […] but I’m the king of getting unwound”) It’s a basic party song, but it isn’t as uptempo as the quintessential party-country band, Florida Georgia Line.

Clever lyric: “It’s been a long time / Since […] I nailed it as they say. / I guess I’ve been in a dry spell but that’s about to change”

River Bank – A fun song that is best thought of as a summer anthem. In the song, the narrator enjoys his life because he has filled it with rich experiences rather than wealth.

Clever lyric: “But we have got each other and gas in the tank / We’re laughing all the way to the river bank”

Perfect Storm – This song is Brad Paisley’s best song on this album. It’s a classic Brad Paisley love ballad. Just go listen to it.

High Life – In this song, Paisley makes fun of our litigious society and a minor legal controversy he got into. Unfortunately, frivolous litigation is a safe target to criticize so I award him no points. I also have to wonder about whether Chick-Fil-A paid for this song, given all the mentions.

Moonshine in the Trunk – party song, but it’s fun

Shattered Glass – In this song, a narrator sings to his daughter hoping that she will break the glass ceiling. I really like this song, but I criticize the narrator’s passivity with regard to the glass ceiling. (“It’s fun for a guy like me / Sitting here in your shotgun seat”.) Men have at least as much (if not more) responsibility as women to remove the glass ceiling. This might be a prime example of Brad Paisley walking that line between commercial safety and radical politics.

Limes – party song

You Shouldn’t Have To – A love ballad that misses the mark. It’s probably unfair to compare this to “Perfect Storm,” but the songs are on the same album, so it’s unavoidable. This song seems to be all about a man doing things that a woman stereotypically doesn’t want to do. My problem with this song is that while “Perfect Storm” feels individualized to the quirks of a particular woman, this one seems generalized to all women which feels mildly sexist.

4WP – This is one of my favorite songs on the album, but only because I follow country music drama. The fight between bro-country and more traditional country has been going on for the past few years with heavyweights weighing in on all sides. While the lyrics and imagery of this song are lifted from the bro-country milieu, Brad Paisley sings with an inflection that makes me think he’s satirizing that subgenre. I could be wrong and Paisley could be a full bro, but that uncertainty is what makes this song fun to listen to.

Cover Girl – Boring song, but sounds fine.

Gone Green – Very traditional sounding country song with lyrics that either makes fun of the environmental movement, or makes fun of rednecks for treating environmentalism initially with disdain but then resort to it for economic reasons. I’m not sure and honestly it’s kind of a boring song. Also like the background vocals here.

Clever lyric: “I swear to God on a stack of Nooks” I suspect we’ll still have book Bibles around for these kinds of ceremonial things because the books aren’t really used as books. Instead, the books are symbols that transmit a shared culture through generations. That symbolism isn’t the same with a Nook, so we’ll still have bibles.

American Flag on the Moon – I’m a sucker for patriotic songs, so I love it. I hate the children’s choir though. What a gimmick. Paisley opens up with a reference to Congressional gridlock, but spends the rest of the song describing how America has achieved greatness by doing things.

Country Nation – This song might be the most commercial thing I’ve ever heard. That said, it does its job well.

Me and Jesus – This is a solely acoustic song that really shows off Brad Paisley’s good voice.

Additional reading:

Written by notatypewriter

2015 October 31 at 11:45 am

Posted in Country music

Tagged with

Why I love country music

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Thanks to reddit, I became aware of a debate within country music over whether today’s country hits are worthy of the country music label. This debate highlighted the derivative nature of these hits and the slightly misogynistic themes, and that has made me reconsider what I like about country music.

These hits that derive from the so-called “bro country” sub-genre still use the timeless country music tropes of small farm towns, trucks, and whiskey, but they do so in service of very different themes. Whereas classic country used these tropes to describe the realities of life in these places, bro country uses these tropes to celebrate the fratty and brotastic themes of partying and sex. The melodies used in bro country, however, are not morose, but could be better described as poppy with a bit of twang to tap into that party spirit.

I’m not going to hate on bro country, even with its repetitive wording. The pop-influenced sound is enjoyable, catchy, and upbeat and the lyrics are sometimes clever and funny, so the sub-genre generates a lot of fun summer anthems that are worth listening to. “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line has truly terrible lyrics, but the tune is really catchy and the song just feels fun and upbeat. Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” is my favorite bro country song with its clever lyrics and fun feeling.

But the country songs I like best are songs that tell stories that anyone can understand, whether they come from a small town or a big city.

Sometimes these lyrics tell stories that are really sad. “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss is a song about a man catching his wife cheating on him. Both end up as alcoholics and eventually commit suicide.

Sometimes the stories are sad, but describe the protagonist triumphing over adversity. Carrie Underwood’s angry woman songs best fit this description. In these songs, the feeling of victory carries through the strength of her voice. These songs use the classic country themes of infidelity and alcoholism to create a progressive image of a woman overcoming these obstacles to create her own destiny. (I want to point out that these songs are very different from Taylor Swift’s passive-aggressive, frankly childish, hate songs to her ex-boyfriends.)

But country shouldn’t be a genre that limits itself to the sad stories. I enjoy a lot of country songs that express love, usually by the male singer of a woman, using incredibly saccharine lyrics. Imagine cringe-worthy teenage love poetry sung with vocal harmonies and set to bluegrassy melodies. The best example of this is the chorus in “Honey Bee” by Blake Shelton.

Many of these artists are also the bro country artists derided by the critics. For example, in Brad Paisley’s “She’s Everything,” we get a hint of the bro (the object of his affection is wearing jeans).

The difference between these songs and the bro country songs is that these songs tell a story that is a little deeper than just partying and getting laid. For example, “Farmer’s Daughter” by Rodney Atkins cleverly changes the chorus as the farmhand progresses from seeing the farmer’s daughter to falling in love with her to marrying her.

Luke Bryan’s “Play it Again” and “Don’t Want This Night To End,” though they don’t tell complex stories and still seem very bro (trucks and tailgates), are about more than getting laid. Both songs describe vignettes of a time spent with the object of affection. It’s romantic and saccharine and adorable. These songs are more aspirational in nature, bringing the listener back to moments where he felt the same emotions and making the listener pine for those times.

Another one of my favorite country songs: “Anywhere With You” by Jake Owen. This isn’t a song I would consider a favorite, but Jake Owen’s “Alone With You” speaks to me very much right now.

Written by notatypewriter

2013 December 25 at 10:33 pm

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