By Denise Torenbeek
I was beginning to fret that this long-awaited record would never see the light of day, as for several issues I’ve had it slated for the lead story only to learn it would be postponed to a future date. Nought for it but to wait patiently and trust it was a case of the end justifying the means – even Brad himself admitted while it might sound like it was all to plan, that plan got rubbery and the process underwent many unforeseen re-evaluations.
“This album has been an incredibly long process. You can listen to it and maybe lose that because it sounds like we knew what we were doing, but it truly was a process of kinda going through a maze to find the cheese here. Cheese not being what we were really going for but…”
Whatever Love And War’s genesis and interminable gestation, it is undoubtedly Brad-worthy – and worth the wait. The advance single, ‘Today,’ left all in its wake to become Paisley’s 24th No1# and he was clearly still humbled by the attention it garnered.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a reaction to a song like this – that’s this quick and this universal. I haven’t gone anywhere that I haven’t been approached by someone who’s either seen the video or heard the song, and wants to tell me the things they’ve been through in their life that echo or parallel the criteria for this song – and I mean everywhere from Walgreens, to on my own bus with employees, and friends, and people.”
Love And War’s second single ‘Last Time For Everything’ lists occasions that are unknowably “last times” and it is graceful and poignant without being mawkishly sentimental – a theme we’ve seen Brad excel at previously, cloaking the topic in just enough humour to keep it relatable. “There’s a million of these that I haven’t thought of. Somebody made a comment when they heard the song. ‘She’s gotten too big for me to pick her up,’ her daughter. She’s like, ‘I don’t know when the last time was I picked her up. I didn’t realize it at the time. Suddenly, they’re on to other things and that phase is over.”
Brad can totally relate, “I remember things my kids have done. They were the cutest thing ever and you think ‘Oh, isn’t that great?’ and the next thing you know, you’re thinking a few weeks later ‘They haven’t done that in a while. I think they’re done doing that.”
And when you’re through processing the notions the lyric embraces…brace yourself for the video!
“We threw the kitchen sink at this video!” Paisley laughs. “The clip is done all with VHS and a lot of it’s my actual yearbook VHS that they made when I graduated and you’ll see me graduating and us dancing. I mean, my God, the prom stuff’s classic and the hair-do’s were criminal. Then there’s new footage we shot where the band and I are wearing crazy old 80’s clothes and riding on bicycles like we are in Stranger Things and then later I switch to Knight Rider and I’m driving that car. And there’s a little cameo from David Hasselhoff in it which is fantastic!”
Whoa…David Hasselhoff?? But who would blink an eye … Paisley clips have already had cameos from William Shatner and Andy Griffith, among others.
“What happened was I was filming using the Knight Rider car; we had rented that. We are driving it up and down the coast and he got wind of it – he lived near there and he said, ‘You know I’m a fan. I’d like to come out and say Hi’. I said while you’re at it bring your leather jacket. And the next thing you know he did! He is everything that I hoped he would be. He’s a blast. I told him for several years as a kid I wore a leather jacket and cowboy boots and jeans every day no matter how hot it was because that’s what Michael Knight wore.”
Paisley’s movie star penchant can in part be put down to his living part time in Hollywood with actress wife Kimberley Williams-Paisley. In typical Paisley style, Brad was determined to meet Kimberley after seeing her in the movie Father of the Bride – it took him seven years to finally meet her but only six months to convince her to marry him!
In something of a shock manoeuvre, hot on the heels of the album release, Paisley announced he’d shot sequences for every one of the 15 songs on Love and War, to make what he’s calling the first visual album in country music. The video is available for streaming on Apple Music. “Talk to me in an hour & tell me what ya think,” Paisley tweeted on its release.
“What’s nice about this is there aren’t really rules.” Brad explained, “We’re all working in a broken industry right now. We’re working in an industry where people still love music, they still want music, but they don’t seem to want it the way we’re giving it to them. And so it’s a fun time to try things. I mean, I kind of like the anarchy of that. I sort of like the fact that we don’t have a lot to lose, in some ways. Getting it wrong just sort of means status quo. Getting it right means we learn something, and we might have delivered people something they really wanted.”
The song, ‘Gold All Over The Ground’ is based on a poem Johnny Cash wrote in 1967 as a tribute to his wife, June Carter Cash. The song’s video, filmed at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn, includes footage of the legendary couple.
Brad is in awe of the fact he was gifted the unfinished poem by John and June’s son.
“John Carter Cash brought me that to finish. He brought that actual scrap of paper. It was in Johnny’s writing and there was something totally magical about it. Somebody asked me the other day, “How do you do that? How does one go about writing with Johnny Cash?” I approached it like I would approach it with anyone that came in, like if Johnny himself had walked in with the lyric to the degree that he had started it, and sat down with me. I approached it just like he was sitting on the couch, and tried to co-write no differently than I would otherwise.”
One Love And War reviewer observed the implacable truth, “The fact is that Paisley can play the paint off a guitar and get the biggest names in the business to sing along with him. Sir Mick Jagger helps out with stellar vocals on ‘Drive of Shame’, a raucous twang of a track. John Fogerty weighs in on the title song, ‘Love and War’, a soaring call-out to take care of America’s veterans when they come home broken.
“They ship you out to die for us, forget about you when you don’t,” the two men rail, amidst grinding guitar and wailing pedal steel.
Resistance is futile. If you like country music, then there are a couple of Paisley songs you love. If you’re new to the genre, he’s an easy entry point because he surrounds his music with everyman themes and rock-solid musicianship.
Paisley’s reverence for pioneers and legends who paved the way for him has been overt and documented in song and video since the get-go. His quirky clips featuring Little Jimmy Dickens delighted us all and in the intervening years and music, he’s been joined by Buck Owens, Vince Gill, George Jones and many more – a long and impressive list of luminaries.
“One of the things I wanted to do on this record was collaborate with some legends that I have had the luxury of getting to know.” Brad said. “You talk about leaving your comfort zone. It’s always hard to write with somebody new, even if they’re not someone that you are ultra familiar with. Even if it’s just a co-writer in Nashville that somebody has set you up and said ‘Hey! You guys would write well together.’ It’s always awkward. It’s like a first date. You don’t know exactly how that person works. In this case, when you collaborate with someone that you have spent your life looking up to, it’s ultra-uncomfortable.
“But it’s also conversely twice as exciting as anything you can do. It’s similar to the feeling you get playing the Opry the first time. You know how important this is, you’ve spent your life hoping you’d get to this stage. You want to soak in every minute of it and you also don’t want to blow it. You want to make sure that you do something well, that you represent yourself well. So I was really prepared when a couple of these guys showed up.”
“There are other aspects of this album that were inspired by just looking at current events. “The Devil Is Alive and Well” is a good example of that, same with “Love and War.” Those are not things necessarily happening to me so much as it is things that I’m seeing.
Huck, my oldest son , is having a Shirley Temple. Mick is drinking a beer. I’ve poured them both and I see this exchange take place. Huck Paisley turns to Mick Jagger and says, “Mick what was Muddy like?” He says, “Excuse me?” and Huck says, “Muddy Waters, was he a nice guy?” And Mick says, “Yes. He was amazing to me. He was my inspiration and he loved us. That’s why we’re called the Rolling Stones.” Mick comes to me later and goes, “Where did that come from?” I said, “I don’t know. He’s smarter than me. I didn’t think to ask that.”
Thwarted country singer Mick Jagger must have enjoyed singing with Miranda Lambert on Don Henley’s solo album last year, because he re-enters the genre more robustly here with ‘Drive of Shame,’ a number obviously conceived to amplify the honky-tonk aspects of ‘Honky Tonk Women.’ It may be the hokiest song ever written about post-coital conscience, but it’s also rip-roaring fun, if you’re not immune to the gusto with which Jagger growls about a one-night-stand who “threw me my shirt and kicked me right out of bed” while the guitars gyrate to match this raunch.
And Love and War is a guitar fan’s album. Paisley has long been country’s foremost superstar axe-slinger, or at least level-pegging with Vince Gill and Keith Urban but, like them, he holds back as much as he cuts loose on record, as if imposing the restraint that too much would be a conceit or unchivalrous. But through much of the album his Telecaster and amp settings are on concert-solo settings, aggressively filling in the shortest gaps between lyrics with fluid impunity.
Even a country cynic could forgive a lot of corn for so beefy a tone.
Of the sixteen tracks there are several comedy numbers as we’ve come to expect from Brad – he does love to take the p… mickey out of situations that amuse him.
“Selfie#Theinternetisforever,” is a social commentary on our ability to turn everything into a selfie opportunity – even our grandmother’s funeral, as Paisley elaborates, pushing the idea that “the internet is forever” (something you might have twigged to a long time ago when those drunk pictures of you went viral and never stopped popping up) summarising “you oughta be ashamed.”
Paisley made several surprise appearances during the rollout of Love and War. He guested
on the Grand Ole Opry, joining Bill Anderson to sing ‘Dying to See Her,’ the track they co-wrote for the project, then he dropped in unannounced at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, performing with Anderson, John Fogerty and Timbaland, all of whom contributed to the album- the latter I’ll abstain from comment on as I just don’t get it! Best put down to an experimental, if dubious attempt to court a new audience I guess?
While it may seem like a long time since one could blithely infer there was a ‘lighter side’ to the US Presidential election…Brad gave his sense of humour free rein with a remake of his duet with Demi Lovato, ‘Without a Fight,’ on YouTube to feature a hilarious mash-up of campaign speeches between Melania Trump and Michelle Obama.
“Because everything’s better in harmony. And because I’m an idiot. Enjoy,” Paisley posted, including a minute-long clip in which he juxtaposed Melania Trump’s allegedly plagiarized campaign speech. The familiar sound of screams at a concert kicks off the clip before Obama and Trump are shown side-by-side, speaking with Auto-Tune filters, with a headline that reads: “Breaking News: Melania Trump and Michelle Obama Sing a Duet.”
Paisley is nothing if not multi-faceted and he makes no bones that he gets a kick out of crazy -and sacred cows obviously don’t scare this cowboy!
With his light hearted nature and love of a good belly laugh, it seemed like a fair question to ask Brad if he’s happy.
“Yeah, I am. I’m excited to get this album out and I’m happy in a personal life sense, everything is fantastic. That I love! I’m ecstatic about the people my kids are becoming. My wife seems to be fairly okay with the guy I’m becoming. She has been working with me now for fourteen years. It’s great. Things are good.”
“I’ve had a really very lucky run. A 10-year or eight-year-old Brad wouldn’t have dreamed that he and Buck Owens would be buddies. My grandfather would have lost his mind that I knew Buck Owens that well. My grandfather would have flipped out that I did this song with Johnny Cash. Those are the albums he owned, Jimmy Dickens, all of that. Roy Clark, my grandfather would have lost his mind every Saturday night seeing me open the  CMA Awards singing ‘I’m a pickin’, I’m a grinnin’” with Roy. That right there would have meant more to him than anything I’ve ever done.”
“One of my own proudest moments is being able to fill up venues in places like England and Ireland. They show up and there are a ton of cowboy hats in London – Wembley looks like a mushroom farm when we play! They go back in the closet the next day, I’m sure, but it’s been a really rewarding experience and it’s opened my mind as to just how small the world is.”