With humor, a hot guitar, Paisley stakes country claim

If he wasn’t a country
superstar, he could be a



Stop me if you’ve heard this: Man walks into a bar, pulls out a guitar and takes the stage.

“My wife didn’t think this song is funny, so I’m not going to put it on my album,” he says. “See what you think.”

That singer could be Brad Paisley. Even though he’s had several humorous hits, country music’s newest superstar doesn’t always trust his instincts. So he tries out his tunes on audiences — “almost like a standup comic would rehearse things,” explained Paisley. “A live audience will never lie to you.”

Even before he finished the song, he tested “Ticks” — about a young guy who wants to take a new gal into the moonlit woods so he can examine her body for, um, ticks — and this summer it became his eighth No. 1 country single. “I’m Still a Guy” (which disses metrosexuals) connected with crowds, too, so he included it on his latest CD, “5th Gear,” released in June.

But one number didn’t pass muster with his toughest audience: actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, his wife.

“It was a song that dealt with a man shucking responsibilities, pretending to not be any good at things to get out of them — like folding the sheets wrong and dropping dishes when he washed dishes,” said Paisley. “Kim hated it. But I said: ‘This guy’s smart. People are going to think it’s funny.’ In the end, I decided I can’t put on a song that she’s going to (skip over) and not listen to. I still want to record it someday.”

There’s plenty of humor on “5th Gear” — so much that Blender magazine wrote: “If Brad Paisley weren’t a country superstar, he could be a comedian ... Nashville has always welcomed punchline-packed novelty tunes, and Paisley’s well-nigh-perfect new album will deepen his reputation as a master of the art.”

Guitar playing

Besides the humor, what sets Paisley apart from most country stars is his guitar playing. Like Keith Urban and Vince Gill, Paisley could be a lead guitarist in any country or rock band. His influences include Nashville pickers but also big names from the rock world. That was evident when he explained his sonic approach to “Ticks”:

“We stole some things from early Van Halen, which works really well because you have verses that feel sort of modern and technological with all these weird funky guitars doing this Mark Knopfler-type Dire Straits sound, going into a banjo-laden bluegrass chorus, which becomes the yin/yang of the city and the country.”

“Ticks” and “Online” may be novelty numbers, but “5th Gear” has plenty of serious selections, too, including “Oh Love,” a duet with Carrie Underwood, and “Letter to Me,” about what Paisley wished he’d known at age 17.

“I think at 17 you wonder where you fit in,” said Paisley, who is now twice that age. “When I was in high school, everyone told me those were the best years of my life. They couldn’t have been further from the truth.”

When writing tunes for “5th Gear,” he found himself in a reflective mood about his teen years because he was about to become a father.

William Huckleberry Paisley was born in February. Dad came up with the middle name, which is what the parents are calling him.

“We like the uniqueness of it. I love Mark Twain. I love what Huckleberry Finn as a character stood for — this free thinker, sort of outdoor adventurer.”

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