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Until 2013 Brad Paisley was the most liked male country star by critics who didn’t write about country. His politics were right. He was easy on the eyes. No one disputed his guitar prowess. He wrote songs whose jokes didn’t put pathos on the curb. “And then he wrote that stupid song about racism,” as Al Shipley wryly put it. That song is “Accidental Racist,” on which I won’t spend a syllable longer criticizing.

Although he still does moderately well on country radio, he no longer scores instant #1s. To my ears his natural sharpness has dulled: where once an inexhaustible talent for writing songs about stuff like toothbrushes, water, and camouflage lent his albums some welcome suspense — I wondered what he’d get away with next — now I see the wrinkles and seams. I suspect critics who embraced him as a token because he wasn’t Toby Keith (whose own momentum has stalled) have moved on and it’s made Paisley sad. Meanwhile country has moved on to Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett, whom I like with caution but whose commitments to hip hop and R&B come more naturally because they’re sluts who’ll hire any tunesmith who’ll guarantee hits that’ll pay the gel bills. But don’t count Paisley out.

In the list below I emphasized the Songs About Stuff, including a newly minted hit called “Today” that’s inspirational without the embarrassment of seeing The Power of Now on your lover’s nightstand.

1. Water
2. The World
3. Toothbrush
4. She’s Her Own Woman
5. Mud on the Tires
6. If Love Was a Plane
7. The Cigar Song
8. American Saturday Night
9. Whiskey Lullaby
10. A Man Don’t Have to Die
11. Some Mistakes
12. Time Well Wasted
13. Celebrity
14. I’m Still a Guy
15. I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)
16. Remind Me (w/Carrie Underwood)
17. Shattered Glass
18. Easy Money
19. Out in the Parkin’ Lot (w/Alan Jackson)
20. Letter To Me
21. You Do the Math
22. All I Wanted Was a Car
23. Beat This Summer
24. Today
25. The Pants