- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brad Paisley
“Play: The Guitar Album”
Arista Nashville

Guitar fetishists are not particularly drawn to country music despite the genre’s wealth of brilliant players - Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and Albert Lee spring instantly to mind. World-beating chops aren’t enough to make the cover of Guitar Player magazine. You also need to play fast and loud.

Though there are banjo players who can tap out 128th notes with the scorching frenzy of, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, country guitarists usually don’t swing that way. That’s probably why there’s no country edition of the wildly popular Guitar Hero video game and why even within the context of that game, only a handful of songs have even a country flavor, including tracks by Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.

Brad Paisley could be the first pure-play country artist to break the Guitar Hero barrier. In addition to playing well, Mr. Paisley plays fast and frequently loud - and with an explicit nod to establishing and upholding standards of country virtuosity. Indeed, “Play: The Guitar Album” can be seen as a brief for expanding the Guitar Hero repertoire to allow for chicken-picking.

Instrumentals make up the bulk of the 16-track album, with Mr. Paisley spanning a wide range of styles and sounds to show off his skills and the breadth of his genre.

“Les Is More” is a crisp, honeyed tribute to guitarist Les Paul. Its jazzy style puts it a bit out of step with the rest of “Play,” but it’s notable for Mr. Paisley’s graceful picking and a steel guitar solo by Randall Currie.

Mr. Paisley combines the Western sound with the surf guitar of Dick Dale in “Turf’s Up,” which features Mr. Paisley on a baritone guitar, hammering out the rumble of low notes that characterizes the surf style.

“Kentucky Jelly” is a rollicking breakdown with dueling fiddle, mandolin, banjo and 12-string electric parts playing over and across each other. Country guitar giants Vince Gill, Mr. Lee and others spar on “Cluster Pluck,” a collection of arthritis-inducing country solos that show off a variety of playing styles and guitar sounds. Indeed, one of my chief complaints about “Play” is that the makes and models of guitars aren’t identified along with the artists in the track listings.

“Start a Band,” Mr. Paisley’s duet with Keith Urban, is the album’s one stab at a country radio hit. It’s an anthemlike look at the adolescent dream of fame through music, with a funny introduction in which Mr. Paisley can be heard botching the opening notes to “Stairway to Heaven.”

Mr. Paisley also duets with B.B. King on an enthusiastic but workmanlike version of “Let the Good Times Roll.” There is one bizarre turn - the song “Waitin’ on a Woman” contains a ghostly spoken-word part by Andy Griffith that makes one cringe with its unintended camp.

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