Deep Album Cuts Vol. 5: Brad Paisley

Country's a genre that can often post up huge numbers while still being virtually invisible to most of the, er, country. But some country stars are less visible than others, while still being huge deals in their own world, like Brad Paisley. He's topped Billboard's country singles chart 18 times (10 of them consecutive singles, amazingly), but there are millions of Americans who never heard his music before last week, when a track from his new album Wheelhouse became infamous overnight and inspired a thousand thinkpieces (it speaks volumes of how little the internet usually cares about country that nobody seemed to have heard this album until Monday of its week of release -- try to imagine any major rap or pop album not being heard and discussed everywhere until the day before it was due in stores). "Accidental Racist" featuring LL Cool J was the deep cut heard 'round the world -- to the point that half the people writing about it seemed to be under the impression that it was actually a single (the album has yielded two radio hits so far, neither of which was that song).

In a way, I saw the whole "Accidental Racist" thing coming -- I tweeted about the eyebrow-raising title and feature credit a month before the album's release, after I'd spotted it on the album's tracklist, the record's lead single "Southern Comfort Zone" having recently become the latest in a long line of Paisley singles I've enjoyed. I actually was surprised by the song, though; Paisley has a history of loading up his albums with both non-country celebrities (Clint Eastwood, Don Henley, William Shatner, Dan Aykroyd) and topical or conceptual songs, often with a heavy dose of humor (one of his albums actually has a comedy skit entitled "Cornography"). One of the new album's other guests is Eric Idle! So I expected "Accidental Racist" to be a short, knowingly ridiculous novelty song, and not the slow, 6-minute power ballad it ended up being, much less just how clueless and ill-conceived many of its lyrics are.

Also, "Accidental Racist" was a surprise because of how utterly devoid of controversy or any kind of failure Paisley's career had been for the 14 years that preceded it. His first single was a hit, his second went to #1, and nearly all of the 30 singles that followed peaked no lower than #2. His biggest baggage as a new artist was being a prodigiously talented guitarist who had to prove he could also sing and write well, which he quickly did. He married the girl of his dreams, collaborated with many of his idols, even had a pretty good critical rep for a mainstream country artist. And then he wrote that stupid song about racism.

So I thought it'd be a good time to look at Paisley's catalog beyond the singles, even though most of the people reading this are probably not even familiar with the singles (and really are missing out on songs like "Me Neither" and "Whiskey Lullaby" and "Little Moments"). And it's a pretty entertaining discography -- a mix of heartfelt ballads, goofy novelty songs, Southern slice of life narratives, and token instrumentals where he gets to solo to his heart's content (he even leveraged his fame to indulge in a mostly instrumental album, Play, later in his career, something it's hard to imagine any other current country star of his stature even wanting to try, much less pull off). So I tried to include a little of all of that on this Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 5: Brad Paisley

1. Don't Breathe
2. Part Two
3. She's Her Own Woman
4. The Pants
5. Toothbrush
6. Runaway Train
7. Come On In featuring Buck Owens
8. Famous People
9. Some Mistakes
10. Munster Rag
11. Love Is Never-Ending
12. Better Than This
13. It Did
14. Catch All The Fish
15. Oh Love featuring Carrie Underwood
16. The Cigar Song
17. Tin Can On A String
18. A Man Don't Have To Die
19. Les Is More
20. Time Well Wasted

Track 1 from Who Needs Pictures (1999)
Tracks 2 and 10 from Part II (2001)
Tracks 8 and 16 from Mud On The Tires (2003)
Tracks 11 and 20 from Time Well Wasted (2005)
Tracks 9, 12, 13, and 15 from 5th Gear (2007)
Tracks 7 and 19 from Play (2008)
Tracks 3, 4, and 14 from American Saturday Night (2009)
Tracks 5 and 18 from This Is Country Music (2011)
Tracks 6 and 17 from Wheelhouse (2013)

The first few tracks mimic the arc of his life during the first few years of his career -- one of the many songs of heartbreak from his debut, followed by the title track from Part II, a metaphor about movie sequels and relationships inspired by watching Father Of The Bride Part II. And then, a couple of his best songs about the woman he soon married, Father Of The Bride actress Kimberly Williams. "She's Her Own Woman" and "The Pants" are not merely his best love songs (he's got a lot of those) but two great looks at relationships from a man's point of view that give the woman respect and dignity rather than just admiration or lust (although the latter may playfully indulge in the latter). It's the progressive attitude and emotional intelligence in songs about the opposite sex like that that made me hope "Accidental Racist" might not be a trainwreck. And then there's "Toothbrush," a playful little 'noun' song (in the tradition of his hits "Alcohol," "Water" and "Ticks") that damn near makes me tear up when it gets to that corny little ending allusion to parenthood.

As great a singles artist as he is, it's a testament to how consistent he is that any number of these songs could have also been huge hits had they been released. In fact a lot of them could easily be reasonable alternatives to some of his hits -- "Famous People" from Mud On The Tires is a better satire of show business than that album's lead single, "Celebrity," and the sentiment of his current single, "Beat This Summer," of never being able to top a particular great moment in your life, was explored both more and less sentimentally on a pair of songs from 5th Gear, "It Did" and "Better Than This." His first duet with Carrie Underwood, "Oh Love," is on par with the next one, "Remind Me," that became his highest charting Hot 100 hit a couple years ago. One of his signature songs, "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," is far from his only fishin' song, and "Catch All The Fish" is my favorite of the rest. In any event, after this little speedbump with LL, he will no doubt keep racking up the hits.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
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