Review – Brad Paisley’s “River Bank”

What happened to you, Brad? Are you going through a mid-life crisis? Are you running low on cash? Did you get hit in the back of the head? The reason I ask you these questions is because this sounds nothing like the Brad Paisley I grew up listening to on the radio. Last summer when I was going through a country music rut, there were two artists I still listened to in mainstream country: The Zac Brown Band and Brad Paisley. These were two artists I could always count on delivering good country songs. Even though Paisley’s most recent albums were no where near his best, I still listened and defended him. “Beat This Summer” was more pop country than country, but it was like a breath of fresh air when it came on the radio.

“Beat This Summer” and the rest of the songs on his album Wheelhouse didn’t fair as well as Paisley and his camp had hoped. All of the sudden Paisley wasn’t at the top of the world anymore and was being replaced with Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Brantley Gilbert. The controversy around the polarizing song “Accidental Racist” he collaborated with LL Cool J on didn’t help his image either. But even then I defended this song for being well intentioned despite the song not being very good at all. So after all of this I hoped Paisley saw this as a sign that he needs to get back to his original sound on his first few albums that produced gems like “We Danced”, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” and “She’s Everything.” That’s the only direction I thought he could turn towards. I thought there was no way he was going to go “bro country.”

And then “River Bank” was released on April 4. I listened to the preview on iTunes just once and I nearly threw my computer out the window. He went bro country on all of us. I was sickened to my stomach that he would go with the popular flavor in mainstream country music. I didn’t want to review this, but it needs to be talked about.

The song starts with Paisley’s always phenomenal guitar rifts and sounds like what you hear in most Paisley songs. He then begins to sing about scratching off lottery tickets and buying a six pack. So where’s the best place to drink “the good stuff,” according to the bros of bro country? Down by the river bank of course! But instead of the song being about drinking on the back of a tailgate down by the river, it’s a song about drinking on a boat on the river. Riveting idea, huh? The song then references several bro cliches throughout the rest of the song and Paisley intervenes with some guitar play towards the end. Also Paisley is clearly using some sort of auto-tune machine to distort his voice at points in the song because that’s what all of the popular artists are doing. Why use your own great voice when you can put it through a machine to “improve” it? I died a little inside after listening to this song in full.

Lyrically and sonically, this is the worst Brad Paisley song ever. For crying out loud he uses the word “dingy” in the song. The sound can be described as a cross between pop country, bro country and generic rock. Apparently he thinks this is evolving the sound of country music when it’s really just devolving it even further.

I had a glimmer of hope that this song would be the outlier on his next album and that the rest would sound just like classic Paisley. But that glimmer of hope was stomped on after reading this interview on Billboard. He revealed that the name of his next album is Moonshine in the Trunk. This immediately sounded off the bro country alarm in my head. And then the sound of his new album is revealed in the next paragraph:

Produced with longtime collaborator Luke Wooten (Dierks Bentley, “Nashville”), “Moonshine” sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula. “When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it’s the coolest thing you ever heard,” Paisley said. “I have a song that’s a basic love song, it’s got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up. I would say to Luke, ‘Oh, that should’ve been done 20 years ago, but they couldn’t.’ The rulebook’s gone, or was there ever one? They try, but I don’t play by it.”

Are you kidding me? EDM and dubstep in a country song? This is not going to get the attention of the bro country crowd. All this is going to do is drive away your loyal fans who expect better from you, including me.

I have nothing else to say. “River Bank” is a bad song and Moonshine in the Trunk looks like it’s going to be a horrible album.

Grade: 3/10