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Brad Paisley Is Anti-War, Anti-Hater, and at His Best

Robert Christgau takes on Paisley's 'Love and War' and new records from Angaleena Presley and Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.

Robert Christgau

The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Brad Paisley: Love and War (Arista) If you believe the only country superstar ever to record a pro-Obama song owes us an anti-Trump song, you're not getting it—not exactly. What you are getting is the antiwar title track, a John Fogerty collab that unites Iraq and Vietnam—and also, by extension, Syria and whatever else they got. And toward the back where the Christian gesture is usually tucked away you're also getting an anti-hate song that decries the evil done in God's name in both "the darkest prison" and "the largest church," because after all, "God is love." That'll do, doncha think? This is easily Paisley's strongest album since American Saturday Night—not a bum track, loaded with good jokes (including, after several failed attempts, one about the internet), hymns to marriage haters will hate because they don't have what conjugal love takes, and, word of honor, a fun Mick Jagger cameo. It begins with something called "Heaven South," which one kind of hater will dismiss as escapist piffle but I say is Paisley's way of telling another kind of hater to quit feeling sorry for themselves and be grateful for what they got. It ends by reprising the same song. A

Angaleena Presley: Wrangled (Mining Light) The onetime Pistol Annie, who last time gave us American Middle Class, the New Nashville Feminism's finest album, leads once again with her corniest stuff. Her "Dreams Don't Come True" and "High School" are sharper than most—"Flip the bird to the whores in high school" and "It's late September and she's startin' to show," respectively. But there's meaner to come as she sweetly guns down the preacher husband she knows like the back of his hand and cattily cuts down the "beauty mark on the human race" who ain't blonde enough to play so dumb. And if you wish she was feistier still, figure the reason she isn't in "Outlaw," where she identifies her career goal as "straight-shootin' hifalutin writer on the hit parade." Only instead she's on the road hoping the merch sells as she grinds out a "Groundswell," as sly a take on the economic marginalization of the job of music as Jeffrey Lewis's "Indie Bands on Tour" only much less amused about it. A MINUS

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Sidelong (Bloodshot) Shook is a home-schooled ex-fundamentalist North Carolinan single mother raised in hardscrabble Rochester, New York. She disarms with self-caricature, exaggerating her drawl, her vibrato, her desolation, her drinking I hope, her "devil's book" and "mother-heart tattoo." She sings as a woman, a man, a who-can-tell; she rhymes "broken" with "Yoakam" and "buck up" with "fuck up." On my favorite track she deliberately gets too blotto to even consider driving to her ex's place. If only it was followed rather than preceded by the one where she plans to dry out tomorrow. B PLUS

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