Review of Play: The Guitar Album

Brad Paisley never made his love of classic '60s country a secret, often inviting his idols into the studio to record cornpone skits straight out of Hee Haw. Paisley is so steeped in the '60s that it's easy to ignore that he was born much, much later, growing up in the heyday of shred guitarists in the late '80s. These two seemingly opposed sides surface on Play, a predominantly instrumental album where the spotlight shines so brightly on the six-string that even the cuts with vocals are either about or are showcases for the guitar. Some of this falls well within the bounds of the expected chicken-picking, with Paisley paying such loving, explicit tribute to Don Rich that he quotes the "Buckaroo" theme on the opening cadence of his duet with the late Buck Owens, "Come on In." Paisley's picking on the hypercharged "Huckleberry Jam" and "Cluster Pluck" is a pleasure, but it's also nice to hear him stretch out and play some deep blues on "Kentucky Jelly," trade licks with B.B. King on "Let the Good Times Roll," cop some swinging jazz from Les Paul on the aptly titled "Les Is More," and roll on the breakers on "Turf's Up" (there may not be any novelty songs here, but Paisley sure makes up for that with his punning song titles). As good as these are, it all falls within the realm of the expected; what surprises on Play is how the '80s shred gods surface -- how Paisley's love letter to his wife, "Kim," sounds like how Joe Satriani slowed things down (and Satch surfaces again on the slow-rolling "Departure"), or how he answers Eric Johnson's "Cliffs of Dover" with "Cliffs of Rock City." These ventures into pure '80s shred go a long way to illustrating just how versatile a guitarist Brad Paisley is, and they wind up as accidental autobiography, revealing a side he's previously camouflaged -- but now that it's surfaced, it's easy to see why his albums are always among the most adventurous and best country music of this decade.