Music reviews

5th Gear – Brad Paisley
Few of country music’s current hit makers can crank out an album that covers the gamut of the genre’s influences. West Virginian Brad Paisley can. He has no problem switching gears from traditional country to bluegrass to gospel, then back to mainstream. Perhaps it’s the shift on the fly that gives us the name of his latest album, 5th Gear, which also just happens to be his fifth studio effort.

The leadoff single, “Ticks,” is a unique, memorable gem. “All I Wanted Was a Car” grooves along, while “Online” is a sly satire of people’s Web facades. Paisley duets with Carrie Underwood on “Oh Love.” Ol’ pals Little Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill and Bill Anderson help out on “Bigger Fish to Fry.” B

Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace – Big & Rich
When Big & Rich burst onto the country scene three years ago, the format was confused but impressed. The trailblazing twosome sold more than 2 million CDs with their debut album, and the 2005 follow-up fared OK. Now, Big Kenny and John Rich are putting out a third record that’s destined for, well, something.

Big & Rich always seem to kick down the doors of country music with new sounds, new energy and new audiences. The title Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace describes not only this collection but also Big & Rich themselves. “Lost in This Moment,” a song about getting hitched, is this album’s first radio release. The AC/DC cover “You Shook Me All Night Long” is well-produced. The music on this effort is fair, but the “pentecostal” enthusiasm of Big Kenny can really get annoying. D

After Hours – Raul Malo
From 1992-1999, Raul Malo and his alt-county band The Mavericks enjoyed a string of good airplay and platinum album sales.

Pop-Carribean-salsa-influenced tunes like “What a Crying Shame,” “There Goes My Heart” and “Here Comes My Baby” were welcome additions to a country music scene that at the time was flooded with Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn sound-alikes.

After Hours is Malo’s fifth solo effort. “There’s a sophistication in country music, particularly in the songs that were written in the 1950s and ’60s, that sometimes gets overlooked,” says the 42-year-old Malo. “I wanted to make an album that showed these songs can be treated as pop standards, because that’s what they are, really. It’s just that the artists who had success with them were country artists, although Tony Bennett had a hit with a Hank Williams song, so it isn’t that unusual for the genres to cross each other.” Malo’s selections include “Welcome to My World,” “For the Good Times,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” and Dwight Yoakam’s 1994 hit “Pocket of a Clown.” B+

American Patriot – Lee Greenwood
Since 1984, Lee Greenwood has been singing “God Bless the USA” at every kind of event imaginable – earning him the nickname “America’s Most Recognized Patriot.” But many folks have forgotten the string of outstanding hits the 66-year-old California native had in country music during the ’80s, including “Dixie Road,” “I.O.U.” and “Mornin’ Ride.”

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On this re-release of his 1992 patriotism-filled compilation, Greenwood steps into the studio to show off his red, white and blue pride. He begins with “The Pledge of Allegiance” and ends with “Star-Spangled Banner.” Sandwiched in between are “America,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “America the Beautiful” and the unofficial national anthem for the South, “Dixie.” A-

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