Brad Paisley: 5th Gear

Brad Paisley
5th Gear
Arista Nashville

Brad Paisley is country music's reigning nice guy, and it's a testament to his artistry that that doesn't mean he's also country music's reigning bore. On 5th Gear, the 34-year-old West Virginia native's latest, Paisley offers his typical mixture of tender domestic-issue ballads and uptempo social-comment tunes: "Online" reveals that many MySpace users aren't quite who they say they are on the internet; "It Did" traces the contours of a relationship from meet-cute to delivery room; "Some Mistakes" stresses the necessity of misbehavior before we become "just like our parents—responsible and bland."

As on his previous four albums, what elevates the material above loads of similarly situated Nashville fare is Paisley-the-songwriter's attention to detail. (Paisley-the-guitarist's licks don't hurt, either; check out dude's ridiculous chops in "Mr. Policeman," where his playing stands in for his hot-rodding.) In "Letter to Me" Paisley counsels his 17-year-old self on how to survive high school. "When you get a date with Bridgett, make sure the tank is full," he sings over a rolling country-soul shuffle, "On second thought, forget it—that one turns out kinda cool."

"I'm Still a Guy" is most indicative of Paisley's understated complexity. The song's about how he'll hold your purse at the mall and he might even walk your little dog, but he's gotta draw the line somewhere—he won't highlight his hair, 'cause he's still got a pair. Yet what accompanies the crypto-homophobia? The sissiest keyboard sound on the album. If anyone's looking for the Cole Porter of Music City, here he is.—Mikael Wood

Brad Paisley performs on Thursday, August 23, at the Minnesota State Fair; 651.288.4427

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