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.
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.
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