So here’s two things I like about modern country:

1) There’s a greater emphasis placed on lyricism than in any other popular music genre these days. Ever listen to an hour or so of Top 40 radio and cringe at the pure stupidity of the lyrics? If I listened to Top 40 radio, I probably would. Even so, I hear enough modern pop music to wonder when the massive dumbing-down occurred. Listen to the average country hit-that is solid song structure right there. Even when they lyrics are bad, they seem to be intentionally bad (or goofy might be a better word.)

2) Take away the slide guitars and Southern accents, and most modern day country songs could have been huge pop hits in the melody-rich Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties. Especially for someone who has a soft spot for late Seventies/early Eighties pop rock, modern-day country is usually a pretty good listen.

My favorite current country singer is probably Brad Paisley. The guy has the mix of serious/goofy lyricism down pat, he’s a kickass guitar player, and he also seems like the type of guy you’d want to have a few beers and just shoot the shit with. His latest album-This is Country Music-is easily the best country album I’ve heard so far in 2011 (although I should qualify that somewhat by saying that it might be the only country album I’ve heard so far in 2011.)

One thing that I kinda like and dislike about country music is the artists’ devotion to their audiences. The title of Brad’s album (and the set’s first track) is a mission statement of sorts. In a world where people like Usher abandon soul music to go pop as soon as their sales start to sink, Brad’s “no sellout” stance is a bit refreshing. That said, though, I can’t help but feel as though he’s pandering a little bit.

Pandering or no, there’s some good music here. “Love Her Like She’s Leavin’” is my current favorite, a ballad with a hook that practically jumps out of the stereo (or the computer, or the iPod) and grabs you by the collar. Some beautiful vocal harmonies by Don Henley are the icing on the cake. The Head Eagle in Charge is one of several guests on This is Country Music (actually, looking at the back cover, this album has damn near as many guest artists as a rap record.) Brad and Carrie Underwood exhibit amazing chemistry on the love song “Remind Me”, Blake Shelton makes a quick cameo on the Buffett/Zac Brown-like “Don’t Drink the Water”, and Clint Eastwood offers his whistling talents (!) on the namesake instrumental “Eastwood”.

Of course, Paisley is perfectly capable of carrying an album by himself, and songs like the somber, lyrically rich “A Man Don’t Have to Die” are evidence of that. Brad’s still a traditionalist, but he doesn’t seem like he’s going out of his way to exclude people who might be non-traditional country listeners.

Brad Paisley’s one of country music’s more consistently selling performers, and he’s also one of the genre’s more consistently creative artists. This is Country Music is a wonderfully solid album with some great collaborations. Although it’s true to it’s title, even people who might be turned off to country music will find something to love┬áhere.

Grade: A-

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