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Brad Paisley 

Time Well Wasted (Arista Nashville)

If Brad Paisley's albums can't withstand the corrosive effects of Music Row's candy factory, no Nashville insider's can. Not only does this West Virginia native enamel them with as much raw inspiration and rigorous craft as any Nashville newcomer this decade, he regularly rinses the sugary coating off country's contemporary conventions with fresh, self-deprecating wit. So "Alcohol," the fast-rising first single off his new album, punches up a pint-wagging tune with Paisley's own virtuoso guitar and a lyric that sidesteps moral judgment for comical truth-telling in the voice of booze itself ("You've had some of the best times you'll never remember with me").

Tellingly, the writing credit here goes to Paisley, and he's either alone or at the top of the list of writers on the album's other strong cuts, from the speedy pluck-party "I'll Take You Back" (when "I take up smoking crack") to its thematic opposite, the classic honky-tonk "Flowers" ("How many flowers have to die/Before you give this love another try?"). But on his fourth album in six years, the serious ballads are mostly farmed out, and most are so sickly sweet, they could rapidly rot a career that's hardly wasted a moment so far.

More by Franklin Soults

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