For The Associated Press
Brad Paisley, "Wheelhouse" (Arista Nashville)
The title of Brad Paisley's new album, "Wheelhouse," could imply the country music star is sticking with what he does best. Indeed, the 17-song album -- the first in which he's listed as sole producer -- presents several songs extending his reputation for clever, sometimes comic, twists on love ("Death of a Married Man"), modern life ("Beat This Summer") and sentimental romanticism ("I Can't Change the World").
But Paisley also has a history of taking chances, and that's never been truer than on his new album. The song "Accidental Racist" opens with a guy being confronted by a Starbucks clerk for wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt that features a Confederate flag. The lyrics go on to explore the tension between "Southern pride and Southern blame," complete with a rap break by LL Cool J.
"Southern Comfort Zone" similarly confronts the regionalism that leads some Southerners -- and many current country singers -- to boast about life in the rural South. Paisley loves where he's from, he sings, but acknowledges that seeing the world has opened his mind to the perspective of others in a positive way.
Yes, Paisley knows what he does well. But "Wheelhouse" proves he's not content with playing it safe.
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