Wheelhouse is a different album for Brad Paisley. It’s not a record many thought the singer — who was very comfortable working with Frank Rogers behind the producer chair — would ever make. After experimenting with the idea of working with outside producers (including Butch Vig and Alan Moulder), Brad decided to handle the production chores.
Inspired by Dave Grohl’s recording of recent album Wasting Light in his converted Garage studio, Brad hired a contractor to create his studio and then created Wheelhouse at the barn now named The Wheelhouse.” Instead of using outside bands, Brad did something that Tim McGraw has often done and that’s to record with his touring band, the Drama Kings and only relied on outside musicians Gordon Mote (for “Tin Can On A String” and Hunter Hayes who guests on Guitar during the track “Outstanding In Our Field”). The latter song was performed on the ACM Awards and features Dierks Bentley.
Does all of this new self-produciton work? On some songs, yes. One thing he does with his band is that while expanding his sonic palate, he does so without losing his country music influences. His guitars are played throughout the record, the Drama Kings provide strong musicianship and harmonies throughout the record like lead singles “Southern Comfort Zone” and “Beat This Summer” but in other places Brad’s humor comes off as trying too hard (“Accidental Racist,” “The Mona Lisa,” “Harvey Bodine”) but that doesn’t mean the record doesn’t contain potential hits like “I Can’t Change The World,” “Outstanding In Our Field” and “Runaway Train.”
Wheelhouse is a record that Brad Paisley had to make — it’s a record that every artist of his stature needs to make — at some point in his career. It’s certainly risk-taking in many places and certainly instrumentally interesting but it still feels…lacking. Perhaps it’s the long running time of 17 tracks (21 for the Deluxe edition) that helps give this feeling or perhaps it’s just too ambitious for an artist not exactly known for being all that ambitious. Whatever it is, I hope that Brad maintains some of the juju found on this record — the explorations of other genres w/o abandoning Country Music’s bedrock instruments — and reigns himself in a little bit on his next album.