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Red Dirt on Chrome 22s

New Albums By Brooks And Dunn And Brad Paisley Steal The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From Hip-Hop

DON’T HATE THE PLAYA: Brad Paisley channels hick-hop on his new album.

By Mikael Wood | Posted 9/7/2005

Brad Paisley plays 1st Mariner Arena Sept. 10.

Poor Brooks and Dunn. After spending more than a decade as Nashville’s uncontested top dog, the duo was forced last year to re-examine its omnipotence in the wake of Big and Rich, a pair of barnstorming newcomers whose self-described “country music without prejudice” aimed to shake up institutions just like B&D. (Not too much, of course: This fall B&R are opening for B&D in a supersized traveling revue dubbed the Deuces Wild Tour.) By folding just the right amount of glitz into their rigorously taste-tested honky-tonk recipe, Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks had managed to satisfy both C&W old-timers and young Wal-Mart shoppers for years. Yet with a knowing splash of hip-hop flavor, John Rich and Big Kenny (and their Muzik Mafia cohorts Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy) threatened to make their elders into old fogeys overnight.

You can hear Brooks and Dunn resisting fossilization on their latest album, Hillbilly Deluxe. From the doublewide trailer-glam title on down, they’re intent on proving they’ve beaten back the forward creep of obsolescence. They get to it right off the bat, in hard-grooving opener “Play Something Country”: “Yeah, the band took a break/ the DJ played P. Diddy,” Dunn play-by-plays from some nameless bar down Nashville way. “She said, ‘I didn’t come here to hear somethin’ thumpin’ from the city.’” (Attempts to stay ahead of the pop-cultural curve don’t come without their pitfalls; as soon as these guys make a splashy hip-hop reference, that reference goes and lops the “P” off his name.)

What’s interesting about “Play Something Country” is that it’s unclear if Brooks and Dunn represent the Diddy-spinning DJ or the band on break. The tune’s boot-scooting boogie comes gilded with standard Music City accouterments, of course: chattering steel guitar, tinkling barrelhouse piano, bright session-dude horns. But the hypnotic, head-nodding beat and the flashy alpha-male swagger sound imported from any number of rap hits. When Dunn yells, “Let’s rock this bar,” you can half-picture him popping bottles of Cristal and raising the oak-beamed roof.

Country and hip-hop’s shared DNA is nothing new, of course; one of the surprising things about Big and Rich’s success is how ineffective Kid Rock’s anti-theft system turned out to be. Still, Hillbilly Deluxe is this miscegenation’s first flowering within the Music City mainstream. Brooks and Dunn aren’t young mavericks with the support of big-city hipsters behind them; they’re dyed-in-the-wool fly-over denizens, so their gamble is bigger—which means the payoff can be, too.

Take the dynamite title track, a nouveau-riche celebration of “big-timin’ in a small town” replete with shout-outs to “slick pick-’em-up trucks,” “black denim and chrome,” and “a little homegrown.” Like Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” the tune conjures backwoods living as airbrushed as a Diddy tableau—a place where you “head into town like a NASCAR winner” instead of an NBA star. “Couple cute sweet things drivin’ a fastback/ shoot ’em a cool smile, hopin’ that they smile back,” they sing over another slower-than-you’d-expect beat, ramming their words together like Cam’ron. Can we get a Kanye remix up in here?

Time Well Wasted, the fourth album by hunky hat tree Brad Paisley, carries a whiff of Big and Rich’s influence, too. A smaller one, to be sure: Despite his obvious hankering for a pop crossover—last year he taped an excellent episode of CMT’s Crossroads with John Mayer, whom he vaguely resembles—Paisley is much more of a traditionalist than Brooks and Dunn. He could be the woman in “Play Something Country” who declares, “I like Kenny, Keith, Alan, and Patsy Cline.”

But that doesn’t keep him from taking a cue from 50 Cent in “Alcohol,” Wasted’s self-penned lead single. 50 rapped from heroin’s point of view in “A Baltimore Love Thing”; Paisley extols the virtues of liquor as the liquid itself. “I can make anybody pretty/ I can make you believe any lie,” he sings. “I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size.” The clincher comes in the chorus, where Paisley gets help from a barroom full of buddies (consider it his posse cut). Turns out he’s “been making a fool out of folks just like you, and helping white people dance”—just like Snoop.

Unfortunately, there’s a touch of rap’s wack sexual politics, too. In “You Need a Man Around Here,” a bouncy Roy Orbison homage to that most pitiful of species—the single woman—Paisley promises to stock his would-be lady’s place with copies of Maxim and Field and Stream. (Great line, nonetheless: “I haven’t been in a room this clean since they took my appendix out.”) The mild-mannered denigration continues in “I’ll Take You Back,” where the singer admits to enjoying watching his evidently promiscuous ex “come crawling.” “It’s like music to hear you bawling,” he croons over a disturbingly chipper steam-engine groove. But he’s no bully. He’ll take her back right when he “take[s] up smoking crack.” Sound familiar?

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