Brad Paisley has long been one of Nashville’s most thoughtful and progressive songwriters, a guy whose catchy, clever hits have celebrated America’s melting pot and tipped a Stetson to Obama. But good sense abandoned him on “Accidental Racist,” his 2013 duet with LL Cool J. It was audacious – a six-minute power ballad that tackled Paisley’s mixed feelings about his Southern roots – but also clumsy, overwrought and, to some pundits, offensive. The Internet more or less called it the Worst Song Ever.
Paisley has reined in his ambition for Moonshine in the Trunk. The album avoids the kind of experiments that marked last year’s Wheelhouse: Eric Idle cameos; odd, Asian-tinged hoedowns; songs about accidental racism. Instead, you get several party anthems, a goofy song about vehicular nooky, and plenty of Paisley’s twangy, pyrotechnic fretwork. (He might be country’s finest guitar player.) It’s not his greatest LP, but it’s one of his most fun.
Paisley hasn’t given up tackling big issues; he just does it more subtly. Like most of his records, Moonshine both caters to his base (“Country Nation”) and prods it a little. On “Shattered Glass,” he cheers an imaginary daughter: “The world tries to clip your wings/But you wouldn’t let ’em/So, baby, go get ’em.” As the chorus hits, you realize the title refers to the glass ceiling. It’s sweet, a little cheesy, likely the first country ballad built around that particular notion about sexism – just the kind of sly, gently boundary-pushing song Paisley exists to write.