Brad Paisley went to my high school in Glen Dale, West Virginia, so I feel uniquely qualified to review Wheelhouse with a beer (or a few) at my side. Wheelhouse is Paisleyâ€™s ninth album and self-produced, so how does he manage on his own?
The results are mixed, to say the least. Wheelhouse tries to balance mainstream country/Southern rock sensibility with serious issues like domestic violence, racism, patriotism, and more. Paisley manages to lure in collaborators from all walks of life, and he certainly has the musicianship to hold his own against anyone else in the business. If this album were instrumental, I would gladly rock it with my proverbial windows down.
But alas, those pesky lyrics get in the way sometimes. Letâ€™s get the bad out of the way first, shall we? â€œSouthern Comfort Zoneâ€ is a litany of clichÃ©s about the South, and I would like to state for the record that where we grew up in West Virginia is above the Mason-Dixon line. â€œKarateâ€ is meant to empower a woman beaten by her partner, but turning violence against violence is just embarrassing, and Charlie Danielsâ€™ cameo is wasted on such lyrics. I have more emotions than I can even write here regarding â€œAccidental Racist,â€ but none of them are good. To put it shortly, a) Paisley is not from the South, b) you cannot apologize for racism by saying the so-called rebel flag and African-American apparel are the same, c) never say â€œR.I.P. Robert E. Lee,â€ and d) the beat is unsuited to rap. This is more embarrassing than Limp Bizkit.
There are some moments of brilliance that make me sad this isnâ€™t a better album. â€œOutstanding in Our Field,â€ featuring country heavyweights Dierks Bentley, Roger Miller, and Hunter Hayes, is an amusing and accurate look at rural parties (often happening in, yes, fields). â€œHarvey Bodineâ€ is an intriguing look about a married man having his heart stop and finding a new life, and Eric Idleâ€™s appearance is a pleasure. The real stand out for me was â€œOfficially Alive,â€ an anthem of Coldplay proportions celebrating a new birth. This deserves to be mainstream.
Overall, Wheelhouse deserves a producer to tighten up the parts to make a greater whole. Paisley challenges himself, but he has enough good ideas (and brilliant guitar chops) to have someone push him to be even better of a songwriter. (Buy me a beer next time you’re in the Ohio Valley, Brad, and I’ll give you some helpful advice.)