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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Brad Paisley

Wheelhouse |


After 14 CMAs and 18 No. 1 country singles, Brad Paisley has earned the right to stretch out of his Wheelhouse on his latest. Not only did he have a hand in writing all 14 of these songs (there are also three interstitials), but this is his first self-produced album. The result is admirably flawed—ambitious, sprawling and sometimes messy—but hit or miss, it’s good to hear a proven veteran like him taking some chances. None is bigger than when he recruits LL Cool J (!) to get down with him on “Accidental Racist,” on which Paisley wrestles with the legacy of slavery, being “caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.” It’s a wild but well-intentioned misfire. Ditto for “Karate,” a bluegrassy revenge tale (featuring Charlie Daniels) about a woman who trains for “that belt to match her eye” to take on her abusive husband. But he nails the dark humor on “Harvey Bodine,” a whistling yarn about a man who comes back to life only to face “a miserable wife.” On another whimsically witty track, “Death of a Single Man,” twang meets torch. Then there are moments like the nostalgic single “Southern Comfort Zone” where Paisley, with his trusty guitar, hits his sweet spot.


Paramore |


Although their fourth album is self-named, Paramore seems to have forgotten just who they are. Indeed, the Hayley Williams-led trio is all over the place for 17 tracks (including three interludes) and 64 minutes (it feels longer). They go from the funk-wannabe groove of “Ain’t It Fun,” complete with a misguided gospel bridge, to the strummy, string-laden lilt of “Hate to See Your Heart Break” and the doo-woppish pop of “(One of Those) Crazy Girls.” But the No Doubt-esque “Grow Up” is probably their best attempt to evolve. Meanwhile, tracks like the anthemic first single show that, thankfully, they still know how to rock.