Brad Paisley Wheelhouse/Sony Nashville/Arista
Anyone unfamiliar with the music of modern country music star Brad Paisley might easily lump him in with any of the other countless modern country music singers out there.
He certainly looks the part, what with his ever-present cowboy hat and his chiseled good looks. But Paisley has gifts that put him out in front of the pack.
First and foremost, he’s a gifted guitar player. The guy absolutely tears it up on his signature paisley-printed guitars live.
He’s also a gifted songwriter, with more than a few hits under his belt.
Those positive traits are largely what makes listening to the majority of his new album, “Wheelhouse,” such a disjointed experience.
Sure, there are some genuinely good potential modern country hits, such as “Southern Comfort Zone” and “Tin Can on a String,” but some of the other material on the album is sure to leave fans scratching their heads.
First on that list is “Accidental Racist,” which features Paisley trading lyrics about race relations in the South with rapper LL Cool J. It seems like a noble idea, but thanks to subpar songwriting and some truly awful lyrics (“If you don’t judge my do-rag, I won’t judge your red flag”), that tune has become almost universally reviled.
Other curious moments come when Paisley includes the likes of Monty Python comedian Eric Idle on “Death of a Married Man” and “Karate” with Charlie Daniels.
One clever song, “Those Crazy Christians,” actually makes up for those previously mentioned disasters with lyrics that would make the late poet Shel Silverstein proud.
All in all, though, “Wheelhouse” is a wildly uneven album.
Key Tracks: “Southern Comfort Zone,” “Tin Can on a String,” “Those Crazy Christians”
Paul Anka Duets/Legacy
When you mention the name Paul Anka to anyone over the age of 60, don’t be surprised if they get a bit of a faraway look in their eyes.
Anka’s songwriting talents span seven decades, going back as far as 1957 with “Diana.”
Since then, the hits have just kept on coming.
Whether it was him singing one himself, as on “(You’re) Having My Baby,” or another artist was covering one of his compositions, such as Tom Jones on “She’s a Lady,” there’s no doubt that Anka ranks in the upper echelon of songwriters.
While the idea of an album of duets seems to have been done to death, Anka gets a pass here, if only for the sheer number of A-list artists with whom he collaborates.
Anka either wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs on this album, and the pair he didn’t write, Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” (sung with Nelson) and Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston’s “Pennies From Heaven” (sung with Michael Buble) really need no introduction.
Highlights on the album include Anka and the late Michael Jackson on “This Is It,” a slowed down version of “She’s a Lady” with Jones and a great version of “I Really Miss You” with Leon Russell.
Particularly good is Anka’s duet with Dolly Parton on “Do I Love You (Yes, In Every Way),” which perfectly showcases the country music queen’s gorgeous vocals.
It might seem a little schmaltzy to younger listeners, but for folks into easy listening music, the style in which Anka has always excelled, this is audio gold.
Key Tracks: “Do I Love You (Yes, In Every Way),” “Crazy,” “She’s a Lady”
Willie Nelson and Family Let’s Face the Music and Dance/Legacy
As hard as it might be to believe, country legend Willie Nelson turns 80 this year.
When most folks are normally kicking back and enjoying their golden years at that age, Nelson has no time for that.
He’s still touring, pursuing various business ventures such as his bio-fuel operation and, of course, recording albums.
Honestly, Nelson could probably live comfortably off the royalties from the Patsy Cline hit “Crazy,” which he wrote, but that isn’t Nelson’s style.
On his new CD, released in part to celebrate his the milestone birthday, Nelson includes one original tune, “Is the Better Part Over,” but chooses to fill the rest of the album with great songs by other songwriters.
Highlights include the title track by Irving Berlin; a great little rock ’n’ roll boogie by Carl Perkins, “Matchbox;” and a beautifully imperfect take on Django Reinhardt’s instrumental “Nuages.”
This is Willie in the most comfortable and reflective of moods, and those feelings can be heard in the music on the album.
Additional songs worth mentioning include Mack Gordon’s “You’ll Never Know,” which evokes memories of Nelson’s “Stardust” album, and a gorgeous and heartfelt rendition of Al and Morty Nevins’ “Twilight Time.”
With the obvious love that Nelson has for his craft, here’s hoping the guy makes it to 100 and is still hard at work doing what he loves.
Key Tracks: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Matchbox,” “Twilight Time”
By Devin Grant