Single Review: Brad Paisley, "Southern Comfort Zone"

At his best, Brad Paisley has at times demonstrated the rare ability to balance fresh and modern contemporary sounds with a nod toward

traditional country genre conventions.  On his tasteless new single “Southern Comfort Zone,” that strength sounds it’s been totally buried.

The bombastic arrangement sounds like it was lifted right out of Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic, and Paisley’s vocal is slathered in grating, ill-advised reverb effects.  All the noise is so distracting that it’s difficult to even make out what Paisley is singing about, let alone become invested in the lyric on any meaningful level.  It’s hardly country by any stretch of the imagination, and it plainly just sounds bad.

It’s hardly a potent song to begin with.  The lyrics of  “Southern Comfort Zone” remain squarely inside country radio’s comfort zone, with the song’s titular pun being the height of the song’s cleverness.  The depthless verses continue to indulge the notion that the south is the last refuge for people who go to church, listen to country and gospel music, wear jeans and ball caps, etc.  I can give some credit for leaving out the Aldean-esque aggression, but that doesn’t redeem the song’s total lack of purposeful focus, nor the tin-eared trainwreck of a production.

If you want to hear a good song about Southern nostalgia, stick with Dolly Parton’s “Tennessee Homesick Blues.”  Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone” is a misguided, watery mess.

Grade:  D-

Listen:  Southern Comfort Zone

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33 Comments

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33 Responses to Single Review: Brad Paisley, "Southern Comfort Zone"

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    This isn’t a great song or a great performance but it’s better than a D- . I’d give it a solid C

  2. Mike J.No Gravatar

    I have to disagree here. While at times it seems like a rehash of “Welcome to the Future” sonically, it is not by any means a bad country single.

    Giving this song a “D-” when we have songs like “Truck Yeah” and “Kick It in the Sticks” getting heavy rotation is laughable.

    Maybe you expect too much out of Paisley. That is certainly within your right, because of what he’s done in the past. But the lyrics at least make you think for a half second (more than 95% of what’s on radio), and the arrangement isn’t near as bad as you make it seem.

    If you want to hear Brad do a different version of the same guitar solo on every single, that’s fantastic. I’d rather an artist take a chance every once in a while, which is what he did here, apparently to your chagrin. I tend to agree with the vast majority of your reviews, but this just isn’t one of them. Once again, it’s your review – but I think a “D-” grade is absurd.

  3. Martin Hyatt in NYNo Gravatar

    I’ve never been a big Paisley fan and have always found him to be overrated. However, I have always appreciated the fact that his musicianship is impressive. But this song sounds like a bad Top Gun soundtrack reject put into a blender with a Coldplay CD. I am so tired of every single male artist putting out a song that lists what it means to be southern, all iced-tea and “Amazing Grace.” It’s just not original. It all seems like posturing to me. Not unlike rappers who talk about being gangsta. The “I’m more country than anyone else” bravado is so tiresome. If you really know who you are, there are more subtle ways to say it. A song in my opinion that perfectly and artfully did this was Miranda’s “Famous in A Small Town.”

  4. I didn’t get a “Welcome to the Future” vibe from this at all. I thought “Welcome to the Future” sounded cool and unique, but that this sounds extremely cluttered.

    If expecting interesting music that does not hurt my ears is too much to expect from Paisley, then perhaps one would indeed say that I expect too much of him. Laugh if you must, but I have to give the grade that best reflects my feelings toward the song, which was in this case a D-. (This song makes me cringe)

    There’s definitely something to be said for an artist taking a chance, but not so much if it comes at the expense of good taste, which I very much felt that it did here.

  5. bobNo Gravatar

    I agree about the bombastic arrangement but, like Paul, I’d give it a C. Listening to this song does not make me look forward to BP’s new album. I thought his last album, “This is Country Music”, was awful.

  6. GloriaNo Gravatar

    Man, I’m so glad to hear some of you don’t care for this song! It sounds awful to me. I’ve heard it on the radio several times and it gets worse and worse! All that rambling and noisy background does not make for good radio listening.

  7. Ewwww….Mud on the Tires is still in my top 5 country albums of the 2000s, and I didn’t think This is Country Music was too bad, but man…he better have some serious aces in the hole if this album’s gonna be any good. The production bothers me, yeah, but my main problems with the song are those awful lyrics. Ugh. I hate seeing Brad become one of THOSE people. Still, the melody’s not bad.

  8. TomNo Gravatar

    …blame it on the arenas. i suppose, if you’re in the big arena-category of artists, then you need a song or two to fire up the place when touring to promote the new album. “southern comfort zone” will do that alright. sounding quite awkward on the radio isn’t such a big price to pay for having an instantly recognisable shout-along-tune for the shows.

    perhaps not a terribly meaningful release, but a purposeful it might be.

  9. Jordan StaceyNo Gravatar

    I agree that the production is really bad but the lyrics are actually really pretty good, I like what he’s saying in that to really appreciate home you have to leave it. The second verse in particular is really great, where Brad mentions all the things he’s done out in the world. I don’t think this is the typical “being from the country is great” song because he says that in order to fully see the world he has to go outside his “Southern Comfort Zone”. So for that alone I would grade this a little higher. I think acoustically this song would be an easy B+ with it’s current production I’d give it a C+

    In fact I have trouble with this part of the review: “The depthless verses continue to indulge the notion that the south is the last refuge for people who go to church, listen to country and gospel music, wear jeans and ball caps, etc.”

    He doesn’t say that the south is the last place or even the best place to find all those qualities. All he’s saying is that his home had all that and when he left there it was shocking. I can speak from experience that that is very much the case I had when I moved out of my small town. All the ways I was used to people behaving was different. So for me at least it’s a good lyric meets bad production. I have a hard time seeing them as “depthless”.

  10. I think the lyrics are pretty good.

    The sound isn’t.

  11. CJNo Gravatar

    I don’t think I will ever grow fond of this song. That said, I still think it’s marginally better than the truck songs that have come out recently. Which is not saying much.

  12. I will concede that perhaps I was harder on this song than necessary, though I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have graded it above the C range even on a good day. I might have been able to get more out of the lyrics with a less intrusive production.

    I’m glad to see people sharing their thoughts so openly on this song, whether they agree with the review or not.

  13. GloriaNo Gravatar

    Question: Do you guys think the casual radio listener pays a lot of attention to the lyrics or to the music?

  14. SweetcheeksNo Gravatar

    No, I don’t think casual listeners pay much attention to lyrics and music.

    In fact, thats why I often think that the very things that critics say make a song “bad” are exactly what makes a song “good” to the listening audience.

    For instance, critics seem to hate cliches, stock characters, and songs without much depth, lyrically. But listeners who are not paying close attention (cause they are driving or treat that country music as merely backround noise) can benefit from cliches, stock images, et cetera because they make the song easy to comprehend with little effort.

  15. JakeNo Gravatar

    I think as far as your review of the music and production, that was fair, and I can see why some people wouldn’t like it. But I think you, and some of the commenters, have not only misinterpreted the lyrics, you actually completely missed the point. This is the very opposite of a “church, guns and trucks” stereotypical country song. Listen to the lyrics a little closer next time before you post a review. I, of course, don’t mean that as an insult or anything and clearly you can write anything you want, ultimately. It’s just counterproductive to review a song in a meaningful sense without knowing what the lyrics are conveying, at least somewhat.

  16. I don’t believe there was any real point to ‘miss’ in the first place. I think the song leans far too heavily on its list structure and on one-dimensional rural signifiers to have any real heft or creativity, or to rise above the many songs of similar ilk on country radio.

  17. JasonNo Gravatar

    I can’t even read the review because there is a CMT Listen Up pop-up blocking the text.

  18. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    I think this is the most interesting thing he’s put out recently, to be honest. I also might be looking into it too much, but is the whole thing –production included– a subtle knock on the “I’m country” songs?

  19. I don’t really notice a substantial difference between this and the “I’m country songs, other than the fact that this one doesn’t take on an aggressive or condescending view toward the urban.

  20. Joe PfieferNo Gravatar

    I think you really missed this one Ben. The whole song is about how, while the surrounding oneself with the South is clearly comfortable, it’s extremely important to step outside its narrow confines every now and then to broaden your worldview and ultimately be able to truly appreciate what you have at home. I didn’t think it was a typical “the South is great” drum-beater, I thought it was a mature wake-up call to Southerners and a recommendation that perhaps they should open up their world-view. Please give it another listen and let me know what you think.

  21. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    ^ I agree. I think he could have approached this theme a little more elegantly, but there’s some interesting depth to this song.

  22. I see what you’re getting at, Joe, but I find the execution of the theme too sloppy for me to get behind the song. I don’t think I “missed” anything – We just disagree, which is fine.

  23. DalbyNo Gravatar

    Well Mr. Foster I think you need to reevaluate this song. This song is so much more that just a song about being from the south. This song is about growing up and seeing the world. It is about having to step outside of what is familiar and having to go away from home. If you can’t see that what he is saying is that there’s no place like home, go through and change the words to fit what home is for you. Maybe you then you can understand. This song is far from a D-. The use of the sound recordings, the variety of instruments, and the harmonies, which I believe you referred to as noise, really made the song great. If you couldn’t hear the lyrics you should probably check your equalizer or open your ears and mind and listen to music with an open mind. Each song is special and unique. You can’t judge by comparing, you can only assess things with a equal playing field. Just think about….

  24. BrianNo Gravatar

    Ben you are way off on this song. You compare it to the songs on radio right now that are “list country” songs. But when you actually listen to the lyrics it is obviously poking fun at those types of songs. I mean seriously there is a string of lyrics that say:

    “Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea
    Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap boots and jeans
    Not everybody goes to church or watches every nascar race
    Not everybody knows the words to “Ring Of Fire” or “Amazing Grace”

    which clearly works on two different levels. You have to be trying to miss the point of the song so badly to come up with a review like this. I can understand that on teh surface it seems like one of those songs that is the bane of country music right now but when you really start listening to it, you can see the mocking tone it takes.

  25. MarkusNo Gravatar

    Thats so true Brian

  26. I’ve been pretty tolerant up until now, but I am very much of the opinion that telling someone that their opinion is ‘way off,’ or that they ‘missed’ it, etc. is not appropriate. (Not trying to single anyone out, just speaking in a general sense) To me, that doesn’t feel polite or respectful. Nobody appreciates hearing that, and it disregards the fact that everyone perceives art differently, such that no one opinion can be fittingly called “right” or “wrong.” For me, it saps the enjoyment right out of what should be a perfectly friendly debate when the discussion takes on such a tone.

    At any rate, I think I’ve said about all I have to say about this song, and at this point, I don’t intend to participate in this discussion any further.

  27. BrianNo Gravatar

    Ben- you may think it is “not appropriate” but it is how I feel about your reading of the song. Maybe that isn’t the nicest way to put it but I am not one who generally tries to sugarcoat my thoughts. Besides, your original post on someone commenting about it stated that this song comes “at the expense of good taste,” which could be twisted into you saying that people who like it have bad taste. Semantics issues aside that isn’t any better than how I framed my comments.

    My point was this though: this song clearly has a double meaning to it which are there in the lyrics I pointed out. You refuse to see that from me or any other commenter that pointed out that you may have missed or are stubbornly refusing to see the song differently from your initial opinion.

    However, the simple fact is that you are drawing on a literal reading of the lines in the song which signals to me that you think Paisley is capable of clever songwriting. The lyrics paint a picture of a man who is telling other people from his area that you need to get out and see the world and just because others throughout the country may not fit all the aspects of your “list” they are not any less country than you. If you read the lyrics themselves, without the music you can clearly see that he is saying that he misses the aspects of home but he knows that to really live and see the world you need to expand your boundaries. Maybe the music ruins that for you but the lyrics should not be immediately be dismissed because you don’t appreciate the arrangement (which BTW- does have a Welcome to the Future type vibe with the backing production).

    You can say that I am not polite or respectful but to me stubbornly refusing to see the entire landscape of what is in front of you is far more egregious and downright insulting to readers of the site. Especially when your opinion essentially boils down to “I’m right and I refuse to see it any other way.”

  28. I know I said I was done commenting on this thread, but I’ll make an exception for Brian.

    I don’t know what it is you’re wanting to hear from me, and I’m puzzled as to why you’re taking our disagreement with such sharp disdain. If you look over my previous comments on this thread, you will see that I have made respectful acknowledgment of the opinions of others. I may not have changed my personal opinion of the song, but that does not equate to ‘stubbornness’ – not in the slightest. I honestly feel the same way about the song as I did when I wrote the review, and I would be lying if I said otherwise.

    The point of my previous comment was that it’s not kind to tell someone that their opinion is wrong. Disagreeing with class and diplomacy (as Tara did, for example) is not ‘sugar coating’ – It’s a simple courtesy. My review might not have fit popular opinion of the song, but it came from a place of honesty and sincerity, and the last thing I wanted was for this thread to turn into a war of words.

    All this really amounts to is a difference of opinion. I feel that being so quick to fling such grave accusations, and to ascribe such negative character traits to me over a simple disagreement is entirely unwarranted, and I don’t appreciate it. I think you should consider the possibility that you may have overreacted.

  29. BrianNo Gravatar

    Ben: ” I think you should consider the possibility that you may have overreacted.”

    Are you blissfully unaware that this is a very passive aggressive comment that is in no way better or different from what you accuse me of?

    When you decide to be a reviewer of anything you are putting yourself out there at the mercy of those that comment and are committing yourself to look at songs from every conceivable angle. You have held fast from your review through your comments to the fact that this is a list country song like so many others on country radio. Myself, and others, have pointed out that there are two different readings of this song present. One is your reading- which yes, I believe is wrongheaded. Two is the way the rest of us are saying where Paisley is poking fun at those songs and asking people to see a world outside their Southern Comfort Zone. You feel that is wrongheaded, which you are saying in a roundabout way. Just less direct than I did.

    And the stubborn comment comes from the fact that at no point have you ever accepted the possibility of a different reading. You have just continually said, “I don’t think I missed anything” or “I don’t notice a difference between this and other songs of its ilk.” That to me is stubborn in light of the lyrical evidence and alternative readings you have been presented.

  30. PSU MikeNo Gravatar

    Everyone has a right to their opinion…but I have to side with Ben here. I despised this song the second I heard it, before even reading this review. I do see the point that Paisley is trying to make, but the point is made in such a ham-fisted, clumsy, over-the-top manner that it’s hard to take the song seriously. Between the “Andy Griffith/Foxworthy/Amazing Grace” montage at the beginning, the rote list of “country things” in the first verse, and the “I Wish I was in Dixie” choir during one of the instrumental breaks (I actually broke out laughing the first time I heard that)…it just feels like Paisley was trying way, way too hard to make his point. I think if he gave a more nuanced, realistic explanation of the things that he loved about Tennessee and his home that he was scared about leaving behind, and then talked about seeing the world and finding different great aspects about other cultures that he couldn’t find staying in Tennessee, it would’ve been seen as more personal, ala “Letter to Me”. Taking that route might have greatly enhanced the lyrical content of the song, and still put forth the same basic message: “You can still love where you came from, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and grow as a person.” But, the list thing in the first verse feels cartoonish, and even if it was done as a parody, or to make a point against list songs, the effect it has just makes the song appear as lazy as most of the stuff that it’s trying to criticize. As the reviewer and many other comments have mentioned, the overbearing production doesn’t do the song any favors either.

    Honestly, this is in some ways even more frustrating than something like a “Truck Yeah” to me. You could tell Paisley was really trying to say something original here, which I respect. But the message just got lost due to clumsy songwriting and all the noise, and you know from Paisley’s earlier works that he’s capable of better. Hopefully, this is not a harbinger of things to come from his next album.

  31. MDHNo Gravatar

    Dude, this review sucked. This song is amazing.

  32. MarkusNo Gravatar

    There is no right or wrong to a review. He’s just showing his opinion on the song.

    That’s the point of a review.

  33. I appreciate your opinion (this coming from a huge Brad Paisley fan), but have you read Matt Bjorke’s 5-star review from Roughstock? Perhaps you two should have a cuppa and discuss this song. I won’t mind listening :)

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