By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Brad Paisley, on the other hand, likes jokes. He thinks marriage is funny. Same goes for heartbreak and breakups and all other affairs of the heart. Two of his standout tracks on Part II (Arista) find Paisley resigning himself to domesticity with assured good humor. "Wrapped Around" (as in "I think it's time to put a ring on that finger I'm wrapped around") does the adult rock and roll trick of making commitment sound daring, while "Come on Over Tonight" is a lesson in apologizing from an expert at swallowing his pride.
Again, you wouldn't get this sense of Paisley by listening to country radio, which has predictably seized upon the ballad "Two People Fell in Love," which insists that "love" is what makes babies. (One more reason not to let your kids learn about sex from the airwaves.) Paisley is marketed as an avatar of neotrad authenticity, and his band has the facile bluegrass licks to back that up. But what matters is that he possesses the sort of warm, lived-in voice that fleshes out an "I'm Gonna Miss Her" (his honey threatens to walk out if he heads down to the fishin' hole) without drenching the jokes in unlistenable Hee Haw corn.
The five industry chameleons of Lonestar, on the other hand, are shameless. Beyond Garth shameless. Beyond Bellamy Brothers shameless, even. We're talking Alabama shameless. Yet I'm Already There (BNA) leads off with two sure shots. "Out Go the Lights" is a pop-rock-with-fiddle wait-till-I-get-you-home heavy-breather that recalls Garth at his most desperately randy. And that's topped by the loopy "Unusually Unusual," which gets even better than its title. An unconventional (verging on insane) cutie named Amy ("call me Caroline for short") announces "I just moved in three doors down, so I wouldn't be the girl next door" and wonders "Hey man did you know somebody left the grass out in the yard all night?"
And is either one of these Lonestar's latest hit single? Nope, instead they hit you upside your wallet with the goopy title track, which is all too much at home alongside "Not a Day Goes By" (" . . . that I don't think of you," natch), which made me wonder for the first time in years what became of Peter Cetera. Not that pedal steel doubling as orchestral swell can't be effective in spite of itself, as these lads proved with their gargantuan cornball in the lump of America's throat, "Amazed." But is there an unwritten Nashville rule that heart songs should be blanched of all lyrical imaginationnot to mention seductive purr? And whose interest does that serve anyway? I mean, sure, sometimes your honey just wants a little sweet talk before you both turn in. But let me tell you, boys, the thing with these modern wimmin, sometimes they really do want their booties licked up and down.