Brad Paisley’s 1999 debut album Who Needs Pictures turned 20 last month, and in the two decades since that album’s platinum success, mainstream country has had few more consistently excellent stars. When Paisley headlines the Lakefront Music Fest in Prior Lake this Saturday, his 18 country radio #1s will be the likely the focus of his setlist. But you may get a deep cut like “Moonshine in the Trunk,” an instrumental guitar showcase like “Time Warp,” or even a whimsical unreleased song like “You’ll Always Be My First (Cousin).”
Brad Paisley grew up a guitar prodigy and hometown hero in Glen Dale, West Virginia. And when he arrived in Nashville, his challenge was to be taken seriously not just as a guitar slinger but as a singer/songwriter. He quickly proved himself to be a sharp lyricist and emotive vocalist, equally adept at clever wordplay and heart-tugging ballads. His autobiographical songs about marriage are often sweet, subtly progressive salutes to the fairer sex like “The Pants” and “She’s Her Own Woman.” But his narrative songs can be creatively offbeat, like the future Nationwide pitchman’s tale of insurance fraud “The Cigar Song.”
Listening to Paisley’s albums, you may notice his pet topics and obsessions that carry over from his hits. “Famous People,” a wry take on fame from 2003’s Mud on the Tires, feels like a flipside to the same album’s lead single “Celebrity.” The topic of reaching a high point in life that seems impossible to top crops up again in again, in the hit “Beat This Summer” as well as the album tracks “It Did” and “Better Than This.” And “Catch All the Fish” is a worthy follow-up to one of his signature tunes, “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song).”
For an artist whose made few missteps in his career, Brad Paisley has unfortunately become known outside his core audience for a particularly regrettable deep cut. “Accidental Racist,” featuring LL Cool J, was a haplessly dour and poorly conceived attempt at social commentary that became instantly infamous upon its release on 2013’s Wheelhouse. You’ll be spared that misfire on our playlist, but you will encounter a less awkward hip-hop cameo from Timbaland on “Grey Goose Chase,” from Paisley’s latest album, 2017’s Love and War.