Brad Paisley

Love and War

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Reuniting with Luke Wooten, the co-producer of Moonshine in the Trunk, Brad Paisley essentially supercharges that 2014 album for 2017's Love and War. Paisley hauls out all his old tricks, singing about the love of country and family, heartbreak, and middle-aged melancholy, then adds a heavy dose of superstar power, contracting Timbaland for two cuts, bringing in both Mick Jagger and John Fogerty for duets, then tipping his hat to classic country by inviting Bill Anderson to sing "Dying to See Her." Johnny Cash makes an appearance, too, with Paisley adapting the late singer's poem "Gold All Over the Ground" into a song, a subtle moment in an album largely lacking in them. While there is some appeal in this bright blast of sound, especially when he's in party mode -- "One Beer Can" in particular recounts the aftermath of a raucous adolescent bash -- it can also seem vaguely desperate, as if he's still clutching a reality that's faded into the past. Sometimes, Paisley acknowledges his advancing years: "Last Time for Everything" admits everything must come to an end, while the novelty "selfie#theinternetisforever" -- a sweeter version of his earlier "Online" -- accidentally reveals a curmudgeonly streak within the singer/songwriter. Strikingly, his invited elder statesman sound looser than he does, with Fogerty tearing into the title track and Jagger savoring all the punch lines on "Drive of Shame." Inadvertently, these two songs highlight the main problem with Love and War, which is Paisley's focus on having hits. While he never pushes too hard -- even the Timbaland tracks don't call attention to the beats -- the shiny production, shopworn jokes, and eager melodies have the cumulative effect of seeming too ready to please any audience that comes his way. Since Paisley still has his skills, this is often enjoyable -- he knows how to craft songs and can play a mean guitar -- but it's hard not to hear Love and War and think Paisley would be a little bit better off if he learned a lesson from Jagger and Fogerty: sometimes, it's better not to try so hard.

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