With good looks, chart-topping vocal melodies, platinum albums, none-too-serious lyrical hooks such as “I’d like to check you for ticks” (is that what the kids are calling it these days?), and a cowboy hat, Brad Paisley is, in many ways, the archetypal modern country star—except that when a killer Telecaster solo leaps into the mix and takes over one of his songs, it’s not some ace session cat playing. It’s him. As Paisley proved with his jaw-dropping guitar breaks on “I’ll Take You Back” and “Time Warp” (both from his 2005 release, Time Well Wasted), his hot country playing is as fearsome as that of just about any Tele wrangler you can name, past or present.
On 5th Gear, Paisley’s chicken pickin’ pyrotechnics are as prevalent as ever. (Plus, the dazzling interplay between Paisley and his steel-guitar sidekick Randle Currie on “Throttleneck” and other tracks will thrill any fan of the classic musical one-upmanship of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West.) And, as you’d expect and hope for from a guy whose current rig features six boutique amps (four Dr. Z Stingrays, one Dr. Z KT45, and a vintage Vox AC30), Paisley’s guitar tones are rich enough with power-tube grind and sparkly bridge-pickup clang to satisfy even the snobbiest of tone connoisseurs. In a homogenized age in which the lines between country, pop, and rock are blurrier than the difference between Chicken McNuggets and Chicken Tenders, it sure is refreshing to see a young gun conquering the mainstream playing both real country and real guitar.