Brad Paisley 

5th Gear

Conformity is the bane of mainstream country music and the reason purists are more apt to graze on the y'allternative side of the fence. Brad Paisley is an exception among his Nashville peers as he co-writes most of his songs, is a crack instrumentalist, and doesn't come off sounding like James Taylor in a cowboy hat. At eighteen songs, his fifth record runs a bit long, but he manages to throw in enough twists to keep things interesting. The West Virginia native is a keen lyricist who shines whether he's skewering metrosexuality on "I'm Still a Guy" (With all these men lining up to get neutered/It's hip now to be feminized/I don't highlight my hair/I've still got a pair) or conjuring a Smokey and the Bandit scenario worthy of Jerry Reed, complete with a South Park reference ("Mr. Policeman"). Skip "Oh Love," the obligatory weepy duet with American Idol ties, and go straight to "Ticks," Paisley's current wink-and-nod hit. Flirty couplets such as And I'd like to kiss you/way back in the sticks/I'd like to walk you/Through a field of flowers/And I'd like to check you for ticks strike a nice balance between corny and clever. The twang-crazy instrumental "Throttleneck" is a further stamp of authenticity in a town where crossover seems to be the only C word that matters.

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