Single Review: Brad Paisley, "This is Country Music"

I don’t think there’s ever been a song that I’ve wished remained an instrumental as much as this one, as the gorgeous instrumentation, especially the fiddle, is the very best example of what the title claims.

But alas, our reigning Entertainer of the Year insists on tackling the title with lyrics, and it doesn’t end well.  It doesn’t even begin well, with the ridiculous notion that country music is where you need to go to hear that Jesus is the answer, as it’s not afraid of rubbing folks the wrong way by saying so in a song. Michael W. Smith and countless Winans have made a career out of doing so without ever recording a country song.

Has Paisley managed to live an entire life in the south without ever stumbling upon Contemporary Christian or Gospel Music?  Of course he hasn’t. He’s just decided to do another tired country music spin on American exceptionalism.

We’re not the only country in the world that has freedom. By some measures, we might not even have the most of it.  But it makes us feel good to sing along to a song that pretends we’re the only home of the brave and the only land of the free.

This at least accomplishes national solidarity, so it can serve a meaningful purpose. What purpose does it serve to convince people that country music is the only place – the only place! – where we can find songs about cancer and Jesus?  And Mama? Don’t forget Mama!  Given that Kanye West wrote a than any country composition this side of “No Charge”, Paisley best not perform “This is Country Music”  on the MTV Awards.

Given that the song quickly devolves into drinking on the weekend and hating on your boss by the second verse, it’s probably a waste of time to over-think this, even if it was Paisley’s insistence that has us going all meta in the first place. By the time he gets all serious again, this time via a soldier not coming home from war, Paisley has weighed down his impassioned defense of country music with so many genre stereotypes that he ends up being a witness for the prosecution.

If you happen to be curious about country music and want a song that also demonstrates “this is country music” without eliciting the knee-jerk response, “Why should I care?”, then I suggest you check out Sugarland’s “Very Last Country Song” instead.  It captures the same sentiment attempted here more effectively, and without the nonsensical “My genre can beat up your genre” undercurrent.

Grade: C

Listen: This is Country Music


  1. I think your review says it all (once again), Kevin. If this is what Brad Paisley calls “country music”, then to hell with him!

  2. I’m conflicted by this song.

    On one hand, I agree with the sentiments of this song 110%. There are certain things about country music that make it so identifiable and so important to so many people, and those things should be celebrated. Not all those things are exclusive to the country genre, but they are a big part of what makes it what it is. Country music is about being honest and authentic. And as far as that goes, I think Brad’s delivery is honest and in the right place.

    But the song is just so terrible. I don’t like the verses because none of them are cohesive or really meaningful, but they aren’t *that* terrible. No, when I really start to hate this song is when he just starts naming random country hits for the last 30 seconds of the song. It has no point whatsoever, and if the rest of the song isn’t pandering enough, then that sure as hell is.

    I get the purpose behind the song, really. But it doesn’t really honor that true purpose anywhere along the way.

    You shouldn’t write a song chock full of trite themes and cliches, but this is country music…..and we do.

  3. I’ll do a mea culpa here with what I said in my original post.

    What I feel very strongly about, however, is that I seem to remember most classic country music being about the realities of rural life, hearts getting broken left and right, hard lives–and a good honky-tonk shuffle about drinkin’ didn’t hurt to listen to either. Most of what passes for “country music” these days isn’t about any of those things to my ears, and it doesn’t feel real. Neither does this record (IMHO).

  4. Great review as always, although I do like this song…that said it’s bigger problem is that is wraps up everything that is wrong with country music today into one song…at least it sounds good though. I hope the rest of the new album is better written with a similar production.

  5. Personally, I have no adverse feelings towards this song; I believe it serves its purpose as a ‘filler single’, if you will. After the CMA telecast, I checked the track listing for Paisley’s ‘Hits Alive’ compilation and, much to my surprise, “This is Country Music” does not appear on the record.

    This leads me to believe that, considering his latest offering is merely a greatest hits collection and every song that’s on it has (obviously) already been released, he needed something to fill the void between “Anything Like Me” (which I recently learned is actually the lead-off single for ‘Hits Alive’, not a fifth release off ‘American Saturday Night’) and the lead-off track for his next studio album. Thus, we’ve been introduced “This is Country Music”.

    If this is the case, I can see why the quality is considered the be lacking and the lyrics dismal; it could very well be JUST a song that is meant to keep Paisley on radio and therefore relevant to country music itself before he can develop his next offering. But why this song, you may ask? Honestly? Because you, me, and record label execs know this is going to be eaten up by mainstream country listeners looking for validation that they are, indeed, ‘country enough’. While not excusable–especially for the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year–I don’t think he should be scrutinized harshly either. It was a noble effort musically and a strategic business move. Brad, and the song, will fare well at country radio.

    Moreover, Devin, I do have to say the end is my favorite part of the song!

  6. Perhaps a more appropriate song title would be “This Is What Country Music Has Become.”

    Great review. While there is an obvious lack of originality in these lyrics, I like how you dug a little deeper to discuss the lyrical inaccuracies that I didn’t pick up on at first. Brad Paisley has done plenty of good songs, but these days they’re interspersed between some really stupid ones, and I just think this is one of his worst.

  7. Although I’m for the most part a fan of Brad’s music, I totally agree with your review. The song is awful and so was Brad’s performance of it on the CMA’s. Great call on Sugarland’s “Very Last Country Song”. Too bad it was never a single.

  8. No wonder the CMAs had to do what they did to make certain he got an entertainer win. He’s never had the greatest vocals, but has had some of the dumbest songs in country music…but they always get to the top.

  9. …this certainly ain’t no lyrical masterpiece, but it’s not terrible. it’s actually quite brave. brad paisley must be well aware of the shortcomings of this song, but deceided to release it, because it was a way to get a few things off his chest that wouldn’t quite fit into his more focused songs aimed at chart success.

    he did it before with “too country”, which is a little beauty that never got released as single. this time around he dumped subtlety for a little propaganda and it just doesn’t quite work out in the end. instrumentally, however, its a good reflection of what country music can sound like today and it sounds great.

  10. brad paisley must be well aware of the shortcomings of this song, but decided to release it, because it was a way to get a few things off his chest that wouldn’t quite fit into his more focused songs aimed at chart success.

    Interesting point, but to me, this just sounds like another one of his more focused songs aimed at chart success.

  11. I guess I’m out on a limb on this one, but I honestly don’t hear this one as being exclusive in the way you all seem to do. Although I agree that the list of songs titles doesn’t really work.

  12. I can’t believe what I just read! I just now heard the song for the first time.. and said to myself “I LOVE THIS SONG.. can’t wait to buy it for my iPod!” I love country and I love Brad.
    I will give it a better listen once I have it on my iPod, but I’ll never listen to the likes of
    Kanye West. Shame on you for even mentioning that jerk’s name in the same review.

  13. …your point of view is as good as mine, ben. the reason, why i think he really wanted to do this song is that he could have done easily without pandering, name-dropping and the like, if he had just been looking for another chart hit.

    it’s also kind of hard to believe that his record company had been twisting his arm to get this “thing” released. then again, it could simply be an accident, where terrific country sounds had a head-on with not that terrific a lyrical content leading to a not quite satisfying result.

  14. @Vikki

    You love the song because it is playing up the things you like and confirming your love of country music. Think about the song from a purely artistic and meaningful perspective, and, to me, you see a well intentioned song with no substance.

    For example, I LOVE the song Kiss My Country Ass, but I don’t think it’s a great song by any means. That’s kinda what I think is going on with this single and most people’s reactions to it.

  15. Brad Paisley is not one of the better country artists. I wouldn’t even put him in my top 20 men, right now. Unsurprisingly, I am not excited/blow away/moved by this song. I’ll stick with my Josh Turner, Keith Urban, Vince Gill.

  16. I actually hadn’t heard “Very Last Country Song” before reading this review, and now I’ve fallen in love with it. I’m going to have to buy the “Love On the Inside” album (Heard most of it, but don’t own it yet). Hey, since “The Incredible Machine” is a dud, I’ll need something to hold me over until Sugarland’s next new album comes out.

  17. @Vikki

    Just because Kanye is a jerk doesn’t mean that he can’t write a good song about his mama. Mentioning his name in this review is perfectly fine, seeing as it’s relevant to the topic.

  18. @Stephanie

    I’m not trying to be condescending in anyway. I’m just trying to be blunt. It’s not a song open to interpretation really. It lists events or moments in life, and you connect with them or you don’t. When you connect with one of the moments, you instinctively feel validated because someone else is singing about that thing. So you like it. How is that inappropriate to say?

  19. @Devin

    It’s inappropriate because you can’t definitively tell someone why they like a song, artist, or whatever is in question. You’re taking your own very narrow interpretation of the song and projecting it onto someone else who may perceive it completely differently. There’s really no other way to describe it other than saying it comes across as pseudo-authoritative and ignorant.

    Sorry, I’m just trying to be blunt.

  20. @Stephanie

    I don’t want to argue online, so I’ll just leave with one last comment.

    I’m not telling anyone their like of a song is right or wrong. There are two main reasons you like a song: you connect with it, or its really catchy. In her comment she said, “I love Country and I love Brad”, so I took that as she felt a connection to the song in the sense that it talks about what makes country music great and she agrees.

    Now in that sense, I don’t fault her, or even disagree with her. But she said she “couldn’t believe” the review. The review delves beyond the face value of the song and criticizes it fairly. I was trying to show her that while yes, she may like it for personal reasons, if she looked deeper and took a step back, she would see the perspective of the review and not be so appalled.

    I’m sorry if I offended you or anyone else, but I’m not being ignorant. I’m just making informed conclusions and trying to help someone see both sides.

  21. @Devin

    To be frank, I stopped reading your response at the first paragraph. If you think there are only two narrow reasons you can justify liking a song, then I’m honestly speechless on the topic.

    It really sounds to me like you’re trying to talk someone out of liking a song simply because an unflattering review was written about it. Ridiculous and condescending.

    Bless your heart!

  22. Stephanie, it seems that you’re overreacting a bit. I took Devin’s comment as guessing, not in any way telling Vicki why she liked the song. She’s free to come back to disagree with Devin’s assumption, but it’s not out-of-line for Devin to venture a guess, since the assumption did have grounds from Vicki’s own comment.

  23. I can’t help it, I have to respond.

    I’m not trying to talk anyone out of anything. I’m sympathizing here more than criticizing. When I first started reading this blog and others like it, I used to get offended when a review didn’t agree with my feelings about a song. And then I started looking at things more subjectively. It didn’t change my feelings about the song, only made me appreciate the other perspective. That was the only point behind my comments.

    Don’t take this as a heated exchange, because it certainly isn’t. But could you answer some questions for me: For what other reasons, besides the ones I listed, would someone like a song? And why is it so wrong to make the conclusion I did when I’m not insulting, condemning, or offending anyone (except you)?

    Ya know, it’s okay. We’ve blown this topic and this thread up with unrelated arguments. Feel free to respond, but I’m going to chalk this one up to misunderstanding and move on.

  24. Leeann, you’re right; I AM overreacting, and I own that. Just because someone says “I love country music” doesn’t open up the discussion for someone else to come along and say “Well, you must like it for the following reasons…”

    I just don’t understand how it could be perceived in any way other than purely condescending. Heck, the remark wasn’t even directed towards myself and I took offense to it! In my young, humble opinion Devin has inadvertently stated that he has reached a place where he can objectively critique a song and by his own estimation, Vicki hasn’t and therefore that makes her opinion void.

    That being said, I know when to back down and admit when I’m wrong and/or misunderstanding someone else.

    Devin, I would like to apologize if you feel as if I was trying to attack you; thought it may have come across as such, it was not my intent.

    Your above explanation made enough sense for me to be able to see your point-of-view, and again I apologize for instigating this whole thing. I simply misconstrued your tone. Therefore, it was a misunderstanding.

    So it’s settled. Have a good night. (:

  25. Stephanie, I really appreciate your points of view around here lately, btw. This wouldn’t be the first time that people have disagreed here. We certainly like a good, friendly debate as much as the next blog.:)

  26. Thanks for the reassurance, Leeann. I’m starting to appreciate this blog more and more for its analytical discussions for sure. (:

  27. Ok…I believe the last seconds of the song where he lists older song titles shows that those songs are the heart of country music…that being said, the things that pass for country now are pretty close to the fingertips. Most “country” now is not the country that we started out with, but times change & we can’t stop that. I do love this song, but I tend to go for the more “Nashville”(now) country anyway. “Texas” country is closer to the heart of country music from past generations. However, that’s just my opinion.

  28. I don’t feel this song, but not so much because it grasps at stereotypical straws (which it clearly does) but it just feels so jejune, so lazily written compared to the breadth of Paisley’s back catalog that you simply can’t help but fault Paisley for unveiling a shadow of his songwriting potential here.

    The coda, in particular, is troubling in the same way Gretchen Wilson’s “I Got Your Country Right Here” was in that it was built virtually entirely off name/titular drops, with the declarative statement “Grab a beer, pull up a chair! I’ve got your country right here!” hook tossed in just for the sake of melodic cohesion.

    I think “C” is a sensible grade in that I do feel Paisley sounds earnest in the performance aspect of this track, which provides a saving grace from utter atrocity on the lyrical front. I also agree that musically this is actually pleasing enough. But I simply can’t allot it a grade higher than “satisfactory” due to its banausic songwriting.

  29. I see your point, but personally, I like the song. Since a successful country singer/songwriter/musician is going “meta” after fifteen-plus years in the business, I don’t think I’d want the result to be profound or clever. I think an overly sentimental, pandering tribute to country music is just fine.

    Also, I don’t think it’s a slam on other genres to say that country music is an outlet for reflections on Jesus, mama, freedom, beer etc. They are common themes in the genre of country music, and I appreciate that. There’s really only so much “my lovely lady lumps… but then I got high… baby baby baby oh like baby baby baby” that I can listen to.

    I do concede, though, that if I were not already a fan of country music or of Brad Paisley, I probably would not enjoy the song.

  30. When I found out Paisley had a new song by this title in the top 40, I wrote a journal entry predicting what it would be about. Unfortunately, I was dead on. The pro-war fundamentalist crowd will love it. This is why I am turned off by mainstream country music.

    A former country fan

  31. …when a country is engaged in war (for whatever reasons) it’s inevitable that this is reflected widely in all aspects of society. hence, it is only natural that the arts are trying to capture these enormously stressful times in many different ways.

    country music has seen plenty of “soldier songs” and their quality ranges from poor to excellent, when it comes to find a way to deal with the brutal facts of life and death, that war stirrs up on both sides of the frontline and at home.

    just picking out the material that seems to try glorifying something that is, in reality almost unbearably frightening to those directly involved, is not quite fair. after all, only the sum of the music that is written and released probably reflects the array of the feelings prevailing during such a difficult period.

    there may be many reasons for being disenchanted with mainstream country music but yours do not quite convince me. then again, i agree that paisley, for once, didn’t quite manage to deal with the topic convincingly.

  32. I really think it is dangerous for anyone inside the country music machinery to define the genre in the kind of narrow-minded and very simplistic terms that Brad Paisley seems to be doing here, the kinds of terms that tend to turn people off to the genre. All of what he says may fit well on the bumper sticker of some pickup truck, but rarely does it ever square with reality; and a lot of the reality about the rural lifestyle of country music are things that are avoided, not only in this song, but in virtually any song that uses the word “Country”, either in its song lyrics or, especially, in the song title itself.

  33. Brad has set the bar pretty high the last 5-6 years, so as a Brad fan, I’m a bit disappointed when he releases something like this. Brad uses humor well, but he’s never tried to simply force something down our throats like this, at least not that I can recall. It seems like something Montgomery Gentry would release. Blah.

  34. some of you people need to lighten up. what i got from this song is a pride for the music that some of us love. we miss the days of REAL country and this champions our cause. since the great GEORGE STRAIT-ALAN JACKSON duet of Murder on Music Row, it’s about time for a new standard bearer, and Brad wrote a great one.

  35. I think this song is fantastic. There is a reason Paisley won entertainer of the year… Also one of the greatest guitarist country music has ever seen. Country music is suppose to be simple, and that is exactly what this is. This song has nothing to do about pro-war either. Paisley is simply recapping country music in the past 10 years.

  36. I know this song has been around for a while now, but it just recently started growing on me. Now that I’ve actually given it a chance, I completely disagree with the “my genre can beat up your genre” message that the review mentions. All Brad does in the song is show the pride he takes in his style of music and explain why it’s so great in his opinion. If you think he’s trying to say that country music is somehow better than other music, then you’re reading into the lyrics way too much. He’s saying good things about country, not bad things about everything else.

  37. I think the critic is way off base on this

    “What purpose does it serve to convince people that country music is the only place – the only place! – where we can find songs about cancer and Jesus? And Mama? Don’t forget Mama!”

    At what point does he say country music is the only place to hear songs on these topics? He simply says it’s not “hip”, and how often in mainstream music do you hear songs based on cancer, mama, tractors, trucks, or jesus?

    Also, why should a song or artist need to take themselves so seriously? Everyone is looking into this way too deep. Having heard every Paisley album, its pretty clear this is song stating what’s great about country music “past and present” and its done in a lighthearted way, with the exception of the final verse, but that is what country music is, a bit of fun mixed with seriousness, sadness, and loss.

    I will say this is not one of my favorite Brad Paisley songs, but, anything he puts out is head and shoulders above most of what gets airtime on country stations these days.

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