Brad Paisley, 5th Gear

Brad Paisley
5th Gear

Brad Paisley’s fifth studio album has the daunting task of building on the momentum established by its predecessor, Time Well Wasted. Awarded both the CMA and ACM for Album of the Year, it was a well-balanced and ambitious record that showcased his talents to a greater degree than the rather conventional singles would indicate. 5th Gear follows the blueprint of that album to the letter, featuring a similar balance of romantic love songs, attempts at humor and spiritual reflections, along with a killer instrumental number. However, it fails to build on the accomplishments of Time Well Wasted, and the material as a whole simply isn’t strong enough to maintain interest over repeated listenings.

Followers of this site know that I’ve been highly critical of the first two singles, “Ticks” and “Online”, and that has caused widespread disagreement among readers. To Paisley’s credit, his attempts to inject humor into his music shows a confidence that too many mainstream country artists lack. It is risky to bank on being funny; there isn’t any room for error. For me, his attempts always fall flat. He doesn’t have the lyrical wit or vocal charm of Toby Keith or Vince Gill, so songs like the two singles and “I’m Still a Guy” just irritate me.

Thankfully, he gets his humor out of his system early on in the record, and the album gains strength when Paisley begins to draw on outside material. As a songwriter, he’s very conversational, but he doesn’t have a strong gift for melody, so even a well-written memoir like “Letter to Me” lacks the forceful hook needed to linger after it ends. Strangely enough, he sounds more fully engaged and authentic when he sings songs written by others. He sounds like a small-town Baptist preacher on album-closer “When We All Get to Heaven”, and he doesn’t need a harmony vocal from Dolly Parton to lift the track to greatness.

Then again, it doesn’t hurt to have a great lady singing with him, as Carrie Underwood’s presence on “Oh Love” helps to make it one of the most powerful tracks on the record. I’m baffled that it isn’t already getting airplay as an album cut. I also enjoyed “Better Than This”, which has the handicap of being the second song on the album built on an identical concept, but simply pulls it off better than “It Did”.

While I often find Paisley to be a pedestrian singer and songwriter, he never fails to be an absolutely mind-blowing musician. It’s his guitar prowess that powers some of the best tracks on the album, particularly “Mr. Policeman” and the instrumental “Throttleneck”, which sounds like a 21st century “Wipeout.” His guitar has more personality than his pen and voice combined, and the clever arrangements and production tricks that pop up throughout the record – a tuba here, a music box there – are so interesting that it’s hard not to get disappointed when most of the songs settle in to a predictable, radio-friendly country groove.

I fully expect Paisley’s unbroken string of hits to continue, and for him to be a big winner at this year’s CMA awards. However, I suspect that his most interesting and boundary-pushing music is yet to come, and it just might take the parade of hits slowing down to motivate him to create it. At the very least, the man could make an instrumental record for the ages. As for this record, it’s a holding pattern rather than a milestone.

Buy: 5th Gear


  1. I’ve heard from several radio guys and “Oh Love”, with Carrie is supposed to be a single some time later on in the year. I adore the melody of that song, and Carrie’s harmony is just plain haunting. I agree 100% about his musicianship on this album, he is great. I also really like “Letter to Me”, I think the message is what touches me most.

  2. I’ve decided not to write a review of this CD , mostly for reasons of time but I’d give this a solid four stars

  3. I’d give the album a 4 1/2. Agreeing simply with the two other comments before me. He’s got plenty of great and powerful songs on the album and he’s also got some fun, unique songs that tackle lines never crossed in the genre before. Nicely done Brad.

    Oh and I hope “Oh Love” and “Letter To Me” do become singles because their probably the two best slow songs I’ve ever heard from Brad!

  4. Wow, I couldn’t disagree more with this review. This album is full of extremely well-written songs. I’m not sure if the reviewer even likes country music, but for those of us who really enjoy great country music, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better album on which to spend your money. Paisley is a fantastic guitar player and though I never thought I’d say this – he might be as good as Keith Urban. His lyrics are witty and fun and his “attempts” at humor are dead on. I’ve been a country music fan for the last 20 years and I’d put this album up against just about anything I’ve heard come out of Nashville during that time. “Letter to Me” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a very long time. Not only are the lyrics brilliant, but the delivery is touching. I have a 17 year-old son and I see so much of him and myself in this song. It would seem that there are just so many ways to say the same thing. Lucky for us, Brad keeps coming up with new, intelligent and extremely witty ways to say them. Keep up the good work Brad. I can’t wait to hear what’s next and I’ll definitely be going to a live show the first chance I get.

  5. brad paisley-you finally made the grade! My “family” will read your lyircs before we think about purchasing another CD. Of course -that is between you and our Lord. Nice tunes and surprising Opre lifestyle lyrics.

  6. the best thing about brad paisley to me is that his music never fails to introuduce a new concept or present an old concept in a new way. altough i don’t find his voice particularly strong, he uses it well and it goes fairly well with the songs especially on tracks like “if love was a plane.” i think he uses the talents he has to the best of his ability and he sure is talented. there are a few songs on this cd such as “bigger fish to fry” that i think he could take out, because it is excessivley long, but overall i think it’s a great album

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