Before you see the record title and say, “No more Toby Keith!”, think again. Brad Paisley is our poster child for country that has a sense of humor (“Alcohol”) without being pure cheese (Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”) or simply an idol for soccer moms and Army brats (Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith). Respected by the old school and spearheading the new, Paisley is a skilled artist with a veteran’s focus and a young man’s energy — all of which is apparent on his seventh studio outing, American Saturday Night.
We see no obligatory patriotism and politics here, no redundant journeys into heartbreak. There is sheer positivity sans super sticky pop country radio, a rare trait given country music’s leitmotif of surefire singles and flag-draped fandom. Paisley’s collaborators like Buck Owens or The Kung Pao Buckaroos also lean more on having good times or making good love without getting roped into the American Idol hype like his peers. On that note the question becomes, where is a line between quality songs and becoming a spectacle like early ’90s era Garth Brooks? Here, it is defined by flawless guitar, a variety of subject matter, “back-to-roots” storytelling and an authentic self-awareness emanating from Paisley’s humbling presence — both on stage and in studio.
American Saturday Night is not a step above the rest of Paisley’s catalog by default as that place would be tied amidst 5th Gear and Play; however it is an unabashed modern country recording with goofball antics laced between sincere references to family life and society. It keeps a warm, welcoming atmosphere that does not set out to shove anything in the listener’s ears. Good ‘ol Brad Paisley is again poised to open his heart and mind up for fans and newcomers alike; unfortunately, the feelings listeners get from his albums have sometimes become lost through singles and videos — primary examples being “Alcohol”, “Celebrity”, and “Whiskey Lullaby”.
A lot of people tend to overlook Paisley’s best qualities because they see some dork with a guitar being silly who still wears his heart on his sleeve. That statement is relatively true, though does not comprise the man as a whole. Some may find reviewing American Saturday Night a moot point, and for all who believe this, listen to “Huckleberry Jam” from Play or “Time Warp” from Time Well Wasted and say with a straight face Brad Paisley cannot glide on that electric steel. This playing may not shine on every single song from every single release, but it does come back for visits now and then. Tracks such as “Oh Yeah, You’re Gone” showcase phenomenal David Gilmour aspirations through twang and whammy before “I Hope That’s Me” gives way to Vince Gill caliber romanticism.
Brad Paisley touches on pretty standard stuff yet again: referencing his wife and child (“She’s Her Own Woman”, “Anything Like Me”) and how much they mean to him; talking about the grandfather most of us have had in our lifetime (“No”); reminiscent moments of clarity everyone relates to (“Welcome To The Future”). There is no shortage of true Paisley, and that is what both raises and plateaus one’s admiration for his new album since nothing new takes precedence here. On the upside, Paisley is going with what he knows works on record, so in the spirit of country boys around the world, if your four star effort ain’t broke don’t fix it.
American Saturday Night never falls short on the comic relief of “Catch All The Fish” and “The Pants”, the sentimentality from “Then”, and the two break-up tunes “Everybody’s Here” and “Oh Yeah, You’re Gone”, for good measure (the first of which displays more Vince Gill soul). Paisley has failed to follow our current trends by remaining the remnant of early ’00s country raised on Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie or pre-pop Reba McEntire. He has a down home flair but refuses to placate an agenda, unlike some of his contemporaries. The pattern is holding steady on American Saturday Night, and Paisley’s songs and blues guitar begin to give that feeling of being at a Blue Angels Air Show — it’s on point for breathtaking standard maneuvers.
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