When I found out I would be reviewing a country album, I didn’t really know what to expect. Like many who share my ignorance on this genre, I assumed country music consisted of dreary lyrics, a strong southern drawl and the obligatory mullet. But then I heard Doug Paisley. And whilst there’s no denying the Canada born singer-songwriter’s typically country voice, that’s where the stereotypes end.
Paisley’s third album, Strong Feelings, follows on from his 2010, extremely well received sophomore effort, Constant Companion, and sees the alternative country music star delve once more into his unique take on American folk rock. However, he expands on the humble guitar and piano arrangements that dictated his previous albums, introducing synthesisers and saxophones to slick guitar riffs and dulcet piano tones, transporting us to a realm where substance rules over style; a realm where instrument and lyric are of equal importance.
Whilst it’s undeniable that country music is filled with songs about love and heartache, Paisley chooses his words carefully. His ability to tell an enchanting story is evident from the offset – Radio Girl speaks of the link between music and relationships; musician and listener whilst Song My Love Can Sing’contemplates a hopeless reconciliation after a breakup – Paisley has the same Dylan-esque ability to make you listen to what he wants to say. Our Love and It’s Not Too Late (To Say Goodbye) combine classic country crooning with folksy guitar melodies, asserting Paisley’s music as, sure enough, ‘alt-country’.
But it was What’s Up Is Down that stood out and made me believe country, or certainly Paisley’s interpretation of it, isn’t just Dolly Parton and Willy Nelson. Indeed Paisley, along with the elusive vocals of fellow Canadian Mary Margret O’Hara, offers a country-jazz fusion that I had never heard before, and made me wonder if this is the future for country music, because if it is, I definitely want a piece!
Paisley describes Strong Feelings simply as “just 10 new songs”. But it is much more than that. It is 10 songs that allow us to journey through a plethora of different emotions. 10 songs that set a mood. 10 songs that you could both cry to and make love to. And 10 songs that will most definitely be playing out of my speakers this year.