Taken from a purely tradition-based point of view, Glendale, West Virginia native Brad Paisley is a renaissance man. Out of all the popular music genres in the modern day, country is the one that seems to be the most inherently unfriendly to the infringing effects of chronic hybridizing. The last decade has been awash with cheap amalgamations, the quality of which has ranged from mildly compelling or amusing to downright certifiable. Pop-jazz, rap-rock (aka nu-metal), punk-pop, pop-hop, the list goes on and changes from one day to the next. One would hope that country could evade the scourge, but alas, jamming square pegs into round holes seems to be a popular activity in Nashville these days. Let us summarize:
Big & Rich are laying waste to all former concepts of “old-school” country music, pillaging every imaginable genre and tossing it against the wall to see what sticks. Faith Hill and Shania Twain have gone from country to pop and back again so many times that even those in the know have lost count. Toby Keith, for as much as he keeps close tabs with country tradition, has made more of a name for himself in rubbing people the wrong way. Gretchen Wilson and her chest-thumping cabal are trumping the benefits of how cool and trendy it is to embrace our collective uncool and untrendy, in no uncertain or cunning terms. While that might be a sage notion to a certain extent, chances are that those who are most prone to her thematic inclinations have already heeded them … since they probably already owned the Big & Rich album. Besides, a good part of America, whether they be on the coasts or somewhere in the middle, needs little or no advisement when it comes to the benefits of being trashed, pugnacious, egotistically over inflated, or any combination of the three.
Amidst all of the discord, however, Brad Paisley has found a golden middle ground. His brand of country adheres to even the sternest of traditionalist qualities, while retaining a distinctly modern sensibility that’s splashed with a warm, sophisticated sense of humor. He has a keen sense for the people and world around him, observant and self-effacing rather than base and sophomoric. In this day in age, that’s downright audacious for a commercially successful artist. As the saying goes, if you can’t laugh at yourself, someone else is going to do it for you, and you’re not going to enjoy it nearly as much.
Though he proves himself to be a guitar slinger at heart, Paisley’s solo passages fit the fabric of the songs very snugly rather than pureeing them into a rockabilly mush. One can catch an air of his appreciation for classic rock and roll guitar in any one of his solos, as much as he stays well within the confines of countrydom. The arrangements on Time Well Wasted are considerably less effusive than the “pop with a twang” formula that has become a country standard of late, even as the production is still a clean and crisp major label job.
In the past, Paisley has been known as a well-humored chap (sometimes too well-humored for some folks), but Time Well Wasted finds him tempering his inner wisecracker with a handful of genuinely affecting tunes to go with his dependable comic touch. There’s even an evident sense of resigned spirituality, a rational mortality that grounds the album and adds a rare third dimension, as the Dolly Parton duet “When I Get Where I’m Going” and songlet “The Uncloudy Day” prove.
“Alcohol” is the bona fide lead single, an easygoing, first-person account of firewater’s curiously paradoxical effects that is destined to become a karaoke standard if it hasn’t already. It’s a non-traditional bar anthem in the sense that it pokes fun at its effects while acknowledging its common, widespread appeal. Somehow I doubt that most of the half-sloshed patrons slurring it off-key and slobbering into the microphone will take note of that, but after so many botchings of “Margaritaville,” that’s fine by me. (I actually think there’s a federal law that forbids singing “Margaritaville” sober.) The Alan Jackson duet “Out In the Parkin’ Lot” keeps up his neo-trad cred, and the poignant “Waitin’ On a Woman” documents the poetic waxings of a long-suffering married man, both while dropping the “g” and embracing the always-edgy apostrophe. “Flowers” boasts the album’s funniest lyrical moment while lamenting the stubbornness of a recalcitrant woman: “Stop the senseless killing / Can’t you hear the roses cry / Baby, how many flowers have to die.” “I’ll Take You Back” and “You Need a Man Around Here” also pack a very humorous punch. Paisley even finds time to hot dog it on “Time Warp,” an instrumental that tosses musical caution to the wind.
Brad Paisley isn’t one to waste the chance for a memorable couplet, and the consistent quality of Time Well Wasted pays testament to that. His lyrical touch never flags, and that makes for an engaging listen even when the proceedings turn introspective. There isn’t a wasted lyric on the album. I’ve been an admitted skeptic when it comes to late-era country and its skewing towards pop, but Brad Paisley’s adherence to both a classic standard and a modern vitality, in addition to his delightful sense of humor and keen humanity, is more than enough to keep this skeptic at bay; at least for a while.