I listened to this album the way I listen to all new music… with open ears, an open heart, and an open mind.
I had already witnessed some of the controversy surrounding it over the last several days and heard the song that was kicking up all the fuss, but reserved any opinion/judgement until I was able to hear the album as a whole.
I sat and listened to it this morning.
What I heard is what I have come to expect from Brad Paisley… A weird, wonderful mix of humor, romance, heartbreak, lessons learned and honesty about life, love and the human condition wrapped in country music and tied in Brad’s guitar strings. Sometimes neatly… sometimes not so neatly, as the story being told may demand.
I also heard a man whose personal and musical growth has demanded that he stretch out beyond perceived boundaries (his own and his listeners’) and reach toward.. more… and better.
I think he succeeds. I loved it from start to finish. I just let him lead me on his musical journey.
The song Southern Comfort Zone sets the tone for what follows. Gives notice that things might get a bit bumpy ahead. But it’s necessary as you start to look at and learn about the world that exists around you beyond where you were raised.
“And I miss my Tennessee home
And I’ve stayed away way too long
But I can see this world as I go
Outside my Southern comfort zone.”
Brad invites us all to stretch beyond our comfort zones and see what we can see.
And, yes, a couple of times things got a little… uncomfortable.
My first real “uh-oh” moment was the song Karate.
Don’t misunderstand, I am actually all for the empowerment of women. I’m all for taking back control when you have been rendered powerless through abuse. My discomfort didn’t come from the notion of a woman taking back her control and giving an abusive husband a taste of his own medicine. I wish that could happen much more often in this world. I was more uncomfortable that the “humor” would render the message powerless… much in the same way as.the Dixie Chicks’ Goodbye Earl did. But, it turned out to be alright, I think. Certainly a better balance than Goodbye Earl had. And it’s a bonus that no one dies in this song.
Okay… the song a lot of people are talking about and that Brad is taking an ass-kicking for at the moment.
I’m finding it difficult to understand what the issue is. Why is this song so offensive to some people and leads them to call him out saying he is a racist and it’s anything but accidental. Honestly, I think they are just re-affirming the point made in this song.
The gist… A man goes into Starbucks with a rebel flag on his Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt and the barista takes offense.
The song is his apology to the barista. That the only thing he meant to say by wearing the shirt was that he was a Skynyrd fan. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What I take from the song is this… while we are all the product of how, where and when we are raised. A product of the times, people, places and events in and even before our lives, there’s nothing that binds us to that. We can learn, we can change, and we can move on from the past… especially a past that existed before any of us was born.
“I’m just a white man comin’ from the Southland
Tryin’ hard to understand what it’s like not to be
I’m proud of where I’m from, but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can rewrite history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells
Fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.”
“Dear Mr. White Man I wish you understood what the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the ‘hood.
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s march turned the South into firewood
I want you to get paid, but be a slave? I never could
Feel like a new fangled, jangled dodge in a white hood
When I see that white cowboy hat I’m thinkin’ it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover and not the book
I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here…”
This is two people (the counterpoint brilliantly provided by LL Cool J) who recognize they have faulty views based on circumstances created long before they were born and they’re trying to get beyond that to some common ground bit aren’t entirely sure how to get there.
Why anyone would think this song is offensive is beyond me.
But it is doing what Brad hoped it would. It’s opened a dialogue for people to share their thoughts and ideas on a subject that, clearly, is still sensitive even after more than 150 years of history.
After hearing the song and hearing/reading some of the reactions to it, I find myself incredibly grateful to have been raised by a woman who taught me to be blind to differences and to always see the commonalities among all people. When it came to parenting… my Mom got it right.
The only other uh-oh moment was with Those Crazy Christians, but it isn’t the slam the title implies. Listen and you’ll see.
Overall, on a scale of 1-5 stars, this one gets a 4.5. Brad’s musicianship is as amazing as ever, but the limb he crawls out on and takes a leap from is what really makes this one a keeper.
I hope the backlash won’t be enough to deter him from taking that leap again in the future.
Brad… you’re doing it right, man.
Keep stretching beyond your boundaries and stepping outside your comfort zone (Southern or otherwise).
I’m more than happy to go with you and learn and grow along the way.