In one corner we have country superstar, husband to a Hollywood actress Kimberly Williams, seller of tens of millions of albums, and charter of 14 number one singles—Brad Paisley and his June 30th release American Saturday Night.
In the other corner we have the alternative country band, the quintessential, “never heard of them,” a band that couldn’t sell an album if it cured cancer—Sun Volt and their July 7th release American Central Dust.
Two artists from the same genre; two albums with similar titles and release dates enter the square circle but only one will earn your hard cash. Which one will come out victorious?
Let’s get ready to rumble!
Paisley immediately comes out swinging.
American Saturday Night begins with its title track, a song that’s a poignant upbeat toe tapper. From there Paisley throws fierce left and rights via the snappy “Everybody’s Here,” the melodic “Welcome to the Future,” and the country archetypal, the driving “You Do The Math.”
Unfortunately, the referee has to deduct points for the song “Then.” It’s a sappy, corny prom ballad. It was also the album’s first single and it went number one. Nonetheless, it’s still a bore.
What’s really impressive about Paisley’s eighth studio album is how it balances a thoughtful and intelligent view of the modern world while at the same time maintains a country aesthetic, especially musically.
In “American Saturday Night,” Paisley venerates the diversity of American culture by listing appropriated accouterments from other nationalities.
In “Welcome to the Future,” Paisley compares and contrasts the past to the future in a much more substantial way than just comparing today’s technology with yesterday’s.
The bluesy “She’s Her Own Woman” praises and admires the independence of his headstrong paramour.
In the tender “Anything Like Me” Paisley charmingly predicts that the disobedience of his infant son will be restitution for the sins he perpetrated during adolescence.
These cerebral songs are in contrast to homespun way Paisley’s reminiscences in “Water.”
“Catch All the Fish” is a comical romp extolling the benefits of fishing and drinking beer. While the sentiment is light-hearted, this track may contain the best musical performances on the album.
In “The Pants,” a song straight out of any American honky tonk, Paisley reminds his country brethren that it’s not who wears the pants in the family but who wears the skirt.
Throughout the entire album, Paisley deals with themes of love, family, faith, strong women and beer. He refers to his grandfather probably more times than any album ever released.
American Saturday Night is one of those “soundtrack to your life” albums. It’s utilitarian music. You can cook to it, drink to it, eat to it, or just put it on in the background as you whittle the day away.
It’s is solid, accessible, consistent and complex enough to survive several listens without getting boring or grating your nerves.
Paisley’s American Saturday Night is a knockout.
Meanwhile, Son Volt’s American Central Rust slowly meanders from its corner and enters into a defensive stance against the ropes. It’s classic rope-a-dope strategy.
While Paisley’s American Saturday Night affirms life, embraces the present and looks fondly to future, American Central Rust is in the back yard smoking a cigarette.
Son Volt’s sixth studio album is a gloomy, churning, decent into self loathing. It’s melancholy set to music.
Paisley sings “French Kiss, Italian Ice” while Son Volt sings “Cocaine and Ashes.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but American Central Rust is anything but bright and cheery.
The album starts with the catchy “Dynamite” and then proceeds into the funky “Down to the Wire.”
Further into the album, Jay Farrar and company get down and get nasty with “When the Wheels Don’t Move.”
“No Turning Back” is a sweeping and captivating ditty that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
The story and melody of “Sultana” is exquisitely haunting.
The album’s final track, “Jukebox of Steel” delivers one of the few messages of optimism and hope. Alas it’s not that optimistic or hopeful but it’s still a cool song.
Like Paisley’s album, Sun Volt is also capable of enduring several spins in your CD player or repeats in your media player. It’s a very competent album that gets better with each listen.
American Central Rust is a technical knockout.
So who won the fight?
It’s a split decision.
Paisley album is upbeat, fun and cheery. It’s well produced. It’s music for all occasions.
American Central Rust is deliberate, somber and subtle. It’s a captivating piece of work.
If you want a great album to listen to when you’re drinking with your friends, buy American Saturday Night.
If you want a great album to listen to when you’re drinking alone, buy American Central Rust.