NY Times Critic Happy Country Music Finally Shedding Its Conservatism, Showing 'Intellectual...Range'

April 10th, 2013 2:30 PM

Music critic Jon Caramanica reviewed country star Brad Paisley's latest album "Wheelhouse," in "Taking Country Less Conservative" for the Arts section of Wednesday's New York Times. Caramanica gave Paisley backhanded compliments for "openmindedness" while insulting the genre of country music as rigidly conservative (Caramanica has previously given backhanded praised to country music itself, for not being as homophobic as some people think).

These are country music’s postmilitarization years. A decade ago, there were songs about strong soldiers and a just war, weeping soldiers and unimpeachable ideology -- the genre latched onto the political moment and held fast like a remora.

But we’re in a drawdown phase now, and regret hangs palpably in the air. What’s arriving are dissenters: those who tear back the mask of the rural experience, those who are comfortable seeing kinship with outsiders, those who wish only to drink away all the pain and forget.

In a sense, they’re all just following Brad Paisley. From a distance, Mr. Paisley has been a stylistically conservative stalwart of the genre for the last decade, a gentleman traditionalist in a bright white hat. But his songs have shown intellectual and social range.

He’s been a country star not scared to seem as if he might own a computer, delivering bits of openmindedness with an aww-shucks demeanor and sly humor.

Caramanica tackled the controversy of the moment, Paisley's odd duet with LL Cool J, "Accidental Racist," a song that threatens to make a statement about race relations.

Still, no matter what Mr. Paisley does in his career, he will always be the person who made a song called “Accidental Racist.” You could call it liberal if it weren’t so conservative. It’s a conversation about race and history between a white man and a black man -- that part is rapped by LL Cool J -- and it comes by its intellectual undercookedness honestly.

Mr. Paisley sings from the perspective of a man facing his conscience and his privilege, but only newly understanding that he is in possession of either of those things: “To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand/ When I put on that T-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan.”