Brad Paisley gets patriotic on 'Saturday Night'

Jon Bream
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

MINNEAPOLIS — Cold Coronas, Canadian bacon pizza, Beatles music — sounds like somebody's recipe for a party, doesn't it?

Those are among the ingredients mentioned in country superstar Brad Paisley's current hit, "American Saturday Night." With its rockin' beat, some people may interpret the song as simply an invitation to party. But Paisley meant it as a different way of looking at patriotism.

"As we wrote this song, I started thinking about what really makes this country great, and it's the fact that we are sort of 'the greatest hits,' the best of the best," he said. "Whatever we are, we assimilate. Nothing, outside of Native American culture, is indigenous here. We're all from somewhere else way back in our lineage, and it's kind of a neat place to think that we've somehow made this work."

Paisley said he always wanted to write a patriotic song, but he didn't want it to be a jingoistic chest-beater.

"Let's get a little deeper than that," said the 37-year-old West Virginia native of Scottish, Irish, Italian, German and Cherokee heritage ("I'm a total mutt"). "I also wanted to make it fun — the kind of song you want to rock out to because this is the best place to party in the world."

Does Paisley's multi-cultural American Saturday Night Tour play differently on the seventh night?

"I think it does," he said recently before going onstage in Wichita, Kan. "Thursdays are these days when people feel the impending workday the next day. Fridays, they don't but they just worked all day. There's something about a Saturday night that is the peak of the week. People are just a little more ready to let go whatever it is they need to let go of and have a good time."

"American Saturday Night" is one of three key songs on the 2009 album of the same name that prompted a poll of 77 North American country-music critics to name Paisley artist of the year.

"No one had more to lose by gambling than Brad Paisley, perhaps the biggest star Music Row has produced this decade," wrote poll coordinator Geoffrey Himes in last week's Nashville Scene, the alternative weekly that published the 10th annual survey. "He got there by playing it safe and relying on his spectacular gifts as a songwriter, guitarist and singer — telling jokes that were funny but not too funny, playing solos that were edgy but not too edgy, and singing ballads that were sad but not too sad.

"For someone like Paisley, whose audience overlaps more than a little with Glenn Beck's, it took considerable courage to endorse multiculturalism on his title track, feminism on 'She's Her Own Woman' and the civil-rights movement on 'Welcome to the Future.' Just as brave in their own way are the Beatlesque backward-tape swirl that opens the first song, the 6/8 R&B organ feel that undergirds the second, and the extended rockabilly guitar solo that ends the third."

Saying he's flattered by the critics' recognition, Paisley takes the praise in stride. "Those are definitely all themes you would not associate with classic country music," he said. "They were things on my mind and how I feel — and looking at it from (the perspective of) 'What haven't I done?'"

"She's Her Own Woman" reflects on how he'd be lost without his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who runs their households in suburban Nashville and Los Angeles.

"The most I'll do is run out and buy things for her off of a list," he said. "But I get home and I don't know where they are, I don't know where they go, I don't know what they do."

"Welcome to the Future" was written as a "positive look" at the times we're living in. In July, Paisley was invited to perform at the White House, where he played that brand-new song about race relations for President Obama and the First Family.

"I'm looking at this guy and he's nodding and looking right at me," Paisley recalled. "I had to close my eyes on the verses. I'm singing the words about the high-school running back and how they burned a cross in his front yard and it's all I can do to keep my head about me and not break down."

Even now, Paisley finds the White House experience surreal. "I still can't believe I did that," he said, vividly recalling another moment from early in that eventful day. "There's this large painting of George Washington that's famous for Dolley Madison having saved it from the fire in the War of 1812. Right under it, as I'm rehearsing, I see my sound man, Kevin Freeman, eating a bag of Cheetos in a black T-shirt. If that's not 'Welcome to the Future,' I don't know what is."

While Paisley's splendid 2007 album "5th Gear" reflected on his childhood, "American Saturday Night" is more about tomorrow than yesterday. He thinks that outlook is partly because his wife gave birth to two sons in the past three years.

"You can certainly see the effect of these two boys on my songwriting on this record," he said. "I allowed that. I said, 'I'm going to be as personal as I can be. I don't really care how open I make myself, because this is the only way I can expand my artistry.' I wrote about things I never thought I'd be willing to write about. There's no 'Ticks' or 'Online' on this record; those were fun, imaginary scenarios."

In his distinguished career, Paisley has won three Grammys and 13 Country Music Association Awards, including album of the year (for 2005's "Time Well Wasted") and the past three male-vocalist-of-the-year prizes. However, he has never won the CMA's prestigious entertainer-of-the-year award, despite being one of country's most entertaining, ambitious and well-rounded performers (not to mention a LOL-funny host of the CMA telecast).

How does he feel about never winning the big one?

"It hasn't ever been my time," Paisley said. "I started off last year with people saying, 'It's your time.' Then Taylor Swift had the year she had. That day (of the CMAs), my wife said, 'Do you have a chance?' I said, 'No. I don't want to win this. I don't belong up there accepting this this year.' It doesn't hurt. Not in the least."

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