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Wait, is that Bill Frisell or Pat Metheny sitting in with Brad Paisley on “Kim,” one of 11 instrumentals on the Nashville guitarist’s marathon, 16-track, guest-picker-rich Play? No, but its darkness relative to the other stuff here (blues shuffle, surf pastiche, Les Paul tribute, B.B. King duet) is startling, even if the tune turns out to be about his wife. Judging from “Kim” and the closing track—”Waitin’ on a Woman,” reprised from Paisley’s Time Well Wasted and featuring Andy Griffith doing a codgerly variation on his role in Adrienne Shelly’s film Waitress—Paisley needs her to clean up the model-airplane glue he leaves stuck to the kitchen table, meticulously stack his antique horseshoes in the backyard, make important cell-phone calls while he fine-tunes the car’s GPS system, whatever. It’ll bring a knowing smile to any guy who has managed to snag a cool wife or girlfriend, because Brad clearly knows about relationships: He thanks record-label exec Joe Galante for being “such a wonderful creative business partner” and letting him cut all these instrumentals.
A great picker, Paisley possesses an essentially comic guitar style not without its subtleties. “Huckleberry Jam” features a lick that goes “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” while “Turf’s Up” beats the hell out of Laika & the Cosmonauts, right down to the judiciously employed Farfisa. “Departure” should provide a suitable interlude for you (or your wife) to roll a joint in the truck while you try to make it home from Home Depot before the football game starts. “Playing With Fire” splits the difference between blues and Southern rock, and quotes Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” Come to think of it, why didn’t some creative business partner in Joe Galante’s employ think to invite Morrison himself to sing on the track? As his great “Alcohol” demonstrated, Paisley does well with food and beverages, so one imagines Morrison and a couple of Music Row tunesmiths could have easily contrived a lyric about Nashville’s incredible variety of fried okra—something bluesy and vital along those lines.
“Cluster Pluck” gives Paisley and several hundred chicken-pickers on the order of James Burton and Albert Lee a chance to strut their stuff. Also appearing is Little Jimmy Dickens, who doesn’t play hot guitar but always goes out in public with a big, blonde girlfriend at least three times his height, giving ordinary guys a lot of hope. The vocal tracks are good, but the licks are the thing, with Paisley and Keith Urban stretching out on the power-pop anthem “Start a Band.” Even the icky sentiments of Paisley and Steve Wariner’s encomium to Chet Atkins, “More Than Just This Song,” make sense in this context: “Mr. Guitar came into my life/And let me live this dream,” they sing, and it’s just the kind of deep sentiment that music always expresses better than words.