SOUND ‘ROUND: Blue collar country from red state men



Of course he’s a cornball. That’s not the issue. It’s a matter of his mawkishness muddling his best intentions. Never again will he be as sentimental as 2009’s “American Saturday Night,” the only mainstream country album to salute Obama and progressive thought. He’s since been tripped up by ill-conceived ambition and retreads of the very clichés he once defied. This modest return to form ain’t perfect, either. The cranky anti-social media song “selfie#theinternetisforever” is loaded with bad gender politics — as if only women post regrettable content on Instagram. His barbs are put to better use on the title track, a righteous anti-war duet with John Fogerty that suffers forgotten vets from Iraq and Vietnam (and let’s pray not Syria or North Korea). Paisley later shames evangelicals who voted for Trump in droves (like the ones from his native West Virginia) because sometimes the worst things are done in God’s name. These are terrible times, no doubt, which is why he enjoys the little things. “Heaven South” digs iced tea, fishing and fireworks while “Last Time For Everything” recalls prom, marriage and fatherhood in that order. And that’s the prevailing theme here: cherish what you have today and love thy neighbor. Call him an idealist, I call him refreshing. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Heaven South” / “Love and War” / “Drive of Shame”


Borrowing a page from Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Brad Paisley released country’s first visual album as a companion to “Love and War.” The longform film of the same name features a video for each of the album’s 16 songs. “Obviously my take on this is a completely different thing,” Paisley told Variety. “On the songs that lend themselves to comedy, that’s what I’m doing, and the same with the more poignant songs, because the first half of this record is really a lot more upbeat than the second half. You know me. I live in the extremes.”


At 84, Nelson’s musical output hasn’t slowed a bit. This is his ninth album in seven years and third in 14 months. But as the tunes keep a-comin’, his once robust lyricism has waned. Last year’s well executed batch of Gershwin covers signaled he was on the verge of creative bankruptcy. Blame it on another year being closer to the grave or the election of Donald Trump (what’s the difference?), but Uncle Willie is reinvigorated here. Seven of these 13 songs are originals co-written with producer Buddy Cannon and are the sharpest of the bunch. “Delete and Fast-Forward” is a perfect summation of the election (if only it were that easy, Willie), and “Still Not Dead” is an anti-ageist anthem in which Nelson wakes up to yet another fake news story regarding his own demise (“Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”). The six covers get the job done with a little help from his friends. The opening hymn is lifted by Alison Krauss, and the title track features Leon Russell from beyond the grave. The best tribute is reserved for Merle Haggard on the finale in which The Okie from Muskogee is made eternal through music. Credit Nelson for mourning his friend rather than boast of achieving the same goal. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Still Not Dead” / “Delete and Fast-Forward” / “He Won’t Ever Be Gone”


In recent years, and with growing frequency, Willie Nelson has been the victim of multiple fake news articles regarding his death — the most recent article was published earlier this month. The article has since been removed. Nelson takes the false information in stride. “Every now and then someone comes up with another Willie’s dead story,” he said during a radio interview. “I’ve always loved them. Everyone was so glad to see me.”

A+ Rare masterwork

A Near flawless

A- Run-of-the-mill good

B+ Flawed but notable

Brad Paisley on Spotify

Willie Nelson on Spotify

Brad Paisley on YouTube

Willie Nelson on YouTube