Country music has always had an air of great expanses. After all, it’s in the name. Wide open land is synonymous with the roots of country music. As opposed to urban sounds, country music is all about the lifestyle, and the internal spaces, that living in sparsely populated areas evokes within us.
Although the rural life allows for the development of rich, philosophical music, it’s rare that modern country musicians dive into these spaces.
Luckily, artists such as Doug Paisley has always dug a little deeper. In a world where most pop country is obsessed with screen doors and country lanes, he asks the bigger questions. Doubt, uncertainty, and pain creep into his songs, even as he contrasts them with serene guitar lines and interludes.
That contrast is almost what defines Paisley’s lonesome croon. Just as soon as he makes sure you understand his message of lament, melancholy, and regret, something — a sound, a line — will emerge to soothe your ears and take the pain away.
The title song of “Say What You Like” paces itself with a groovy rhythm guitar and Paisley’s well-worn vocals. It’s a typical number for him, evoking the lyrical panache of legends like John Prine without being too flashy:
“Say what you like about me
Go where you go, be who you’ll be
It’s no concern of mine, or is it?”
Paisley evokes a long line of self-aware lyricism in his music, allowing the pain of defeat to seep into even his most triumphant songs. “Say What You Like” might sound like a confident rebuke of his ex’s opinion of him, that is, until he questions even his own lyrics with “It’s no concern of mine, or is it?”, admitting that those “bygone times” often do come back to haunt him.
“Worst of all, don’t stay home, pick up the phone, or be alone.” Paisley sings on “Sometimes It’s So Easy.” It’s all part of Paisley’s advice to you (or to himself) about what not to do when heartbroken. For a song that begins with the claim that “sometimes it’s so easy” to get over a relationship, the song spirals down quickly. Eventually, we discover it’s only easy as long as you don’t do a number of things, such as visit old towns or open up old boxes, or ever be alone.
The internal and external landscape is what Doug Paisley merges so well in his lyrics. There’s even a song called “Wide Open Plain” where the plain serves as metaphor for relationships, ourselves, and the strange relationship between past and future. Draped with delicate yet perky guitar lines, the song even attempts to shrug off its heavy philosophical weight. Of course, we can’t just shrug it off, and no one knows this better than Paisley.
Other highlights: “Almost”; “I Wanted It Too Much”
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