Who’d win in a guitar dual–Keith Urban or Braid Paisley? That’s the quintessential Nashville water-cooler question. On this, Paisley’s aptly titled fifth studio album (produced by Frank Rogers), he makes a strong case for himself by placing musicianship front-and-center, his mind-blowing guitar skills the focus of an album that should establish him as one of country music’s premier entertainers.
Tracks “All I Wanted Was A Car” and “Some Mistakes” both make significant use of Paisley’s signature licks, while the instrumental “Throttleneck” and the ridiculously fast “Mr. Policeman” showcase why he’ll be remembered as one of the all-time great country guitarists.
Elsewhere, Paisley’s writing is, as always, clever and downright wickedly witty. The lead single “Ticks” is jam-packed with lyrical hooks, and the follow-up “Online”, although a bit trite in its concept, follows suit with lines like, “Even on a slow day, I can have a three way–chat, with two women at one time.”
The pieces of 5th Gear fit together thematically to form one of the most memorable country albums in a very long time. There’s a strong sense of nostalgia present here, but also a sense of growth and the realization that life gets better as it goes. And that’s what I love most about this album–the way Paisley taps into the modern male psyche without pandering to its extremes–e.g. the borderline-Emo melodrama of Rascal Flatts and the testosterone-fueled machismo of Toby Keith. “Letter To Me,” for example, an unexpectedly poignant song about the letter an adult Paisley would write to his seventeen year-old self, is perfectly tuned-in to the social issues young men face in today’s society–about first love lost, Paisley sings, “I know you really liked her, and it just don’t seem fair/All I can say is pain like that is fast and it’s rare.”
Still, even in these more sentimental moments, Paisley’s sense of humor shines through with lines like, “When you get a date with Bridgett, make sure the tank is full/On second thought forget it, that one turns out kinda cool.”