Album Review: Brad Paisley - Love and War (Visual Album)

There's becoming a bit of a tradition for country musicians to 'do a Beyoncé'. First Eric Church dropped his Mr. Misunderstood album unannounced on the night of the 2015 CMA Awards - upstaged only by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake's duet - and now Brad Paisley has come out with the first country visual album on his tenth LP, Love and War. Brad previewed some tracks from the new album at C2C earlier this year and I was interested to see how they'd marry up with the videos. This is a long post, so grab yourself a cuppa and settle in...

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The album begins with a Tron-like opening sequence before going into the first song, 'Heaven South', which is jam-packed with typical Southern imagery as Brad and his band drive their truck through small town USA. Right from the off the visuals echo the song lyrics perfectly and you get the sense that it's a very literal project. The song's lyrics reminded me of 'Country Nation', one of my favourite Brad Paisley songs, and I liked the mix of traditional and modern references and the carefree feel. It feels timeless yet contemporary at the same time and is one of the standouts from the album.

Continuing with the retro theme, the nostalgic 'Last Time For Everything' mixes home video footage of a young Paisley with faded modern-day shots and is full of 80s references, from the Stranger Things-inspired title card and a David Hasselhoff cameo to Brad dressed as Marty McFly riding a dirt bike. Paisley also hits a seriously impressive note at the end of the song! From there it's into 'One Beer Can', an uptempo rocky track telling the story of a surprisingly sedate house party gone wrong. The song and video have a lot of Brad's trademark humour (with Paisley throwing the titular can that gets teenage Bobby into trouble) and the teen movie tropes are used very cleverly, putting a funny spin on what could have been a standard party song.

The album is split into 'chapters' which show different aspects of Brad's personality, from his more romantic side in the likes of the shopping mall-set 'Go To Bed Early' and 'Contact High', which finds him playing guitar in an indoor skydiving tunnel (as you do), to the slightly silly and throwaway fun of 'selfie#theinternetisforever' featuring what looks a lot like the C2C audience from Brad's performance in March. I also loved the references back to the previous videos, such as Bobby from 'One Beer Can' popping up in 'selfie#theinternetisforever' and Brad still sporting his 80s garb at the start of 'One Beer Can'. These little moments really helped to link the album together and make it feel a lot less disjointed compared to just listening to the audio version.

One of the talking points prior to the release of the album has been the collaborations, which by and large work well. 'Drive of Shame' with Mick Jagger, a 70s rock-influenced number that wouldn't sound out of place in a Rolling Stones set list, balances regretful lyrics with an uptempo melody. Brad also showed his serious side on the title track, a duet with John Fogerty with heavy rock guitars and a biting message about the damaging effects of war, and the heartbreakingly beautiful 'Dying To See Her' with Bill Anderson. Meanwhile, the two songs with Timbaland, 'Grey Goose Chase' and 'Solar Power Girl', embrace traditional instruments and a classic country combination of melancholy lyrics against uptempo melodies. I particularly loved the comic book-themed video for the latter track as it was a nice contrast to the earlier videos.

My personal standout moment of the album was 'Gold All Over The Ground', which takes it lyrics from a poem written by Johnny Cash about his wife June Carter, which Brad has set to music, and I have to admit that without knowing the backstory I never would have guessed that as they fit together really well. The gorgeous imagery of the writing fits perfectly with Brad's slow, simple guitar melody and the darkly lit tour he takes of Cash's cabin in the video; it's respectful but without be indulgent and a lovely homage to the Man in Black. I also loved 'Today', which pairs a simple uplifting piano melody with some incredibly moving footage of significant moments in ordinary people's lives; I defy you not to watch it and not have a tear in your eye at the end.

The album closes with 'The Devil is Alive and Well', an atmospheric video which finds Brad and band outside a burnt-out Nashville church. The slow, sad piano melody adds a feeling of despair and darkness in contrast to the uptempo feel of much of the album, and the lyrics echo the uncertainty of the turbulent times we live in and a yearning to go back to when things were much simpler. And yet, with final track 'Meaning Again' and the reprise of 'Heaven South' to bookend the whole thing, a mix of shots from the previous videos neatly tie the album together and serve as an uplifting reminder to stick with the values of home, family and love and come together to make change for the better. It's simple but highly effective.

Overall I really enjoyed Love and War. For me it sums up the different sides of Paisley's music very well and gives you a great oversight of who he is as an artist - no small feat on your tenth album. He's playing to his strengths as a guitarist and songwriter but also shows that he's willing to push himself and become a little more outspoken. Yes, there is a little unevenness, there are a couple of misfires and the uptempo tracks aren't quite as strong as the ballads ('Heaven South' excepted), but the videos do a great job of pulling everything together and capturing the moment whilst still being timeless. It's a seriously impressive piece of work and I'm intrigued to see how he follows it up.

Top tracks: 'Heaven South', 'Last Time For Everything', 'Today', 'Gold All Over The Ground'

The Love and War visual album is available via iTunes.

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