Doug Paisley: Say What You Like Album Review

Doug Paisley’s records have always evoked rivers great and wide, drifting unhurriedly across the Earth. His smooth country songs are doing old-fashioned work, asking questions about love, death, and doubt; It is not about ephemeral topical concerns or minor sins but, on the contrary, questions of the time, concerns that will not be resolved no matter how urgent the music moves. But just below that placid surface, where sighing pedal steel and trotting drums are more swirling than swift, hidden dangers lurk. In almost every Paisley song, there is at least one line so charged that it can, like sharpened wood or chiseled stones, carried by the current, shatter or, at the very least, reorient. “I count the years with a phantom limb,” Paisley sang in 2014 Strong feelings, her sweetness an evil feint. “I finally have a hand that I know can win.”

The dangers hidden within the calm of Paisley have never been as dense and potentially devastating as they are during Say what you wanttheir fifth album and first since 2018’s incisor start start. The contrast between its sound and substance has never been more startling either. Backed by these 11 tracks from the versatile band from Toronto Bahamas, Paisley rocks above the country funk of “Say What You Like” and “Make It a Double,” compiled over the spartan “Holy Roller” and “Rewrite History.” “. These songs, however, are a liturgy of grievance and disappointment, Paisley taking aim at old flames and distant friends, his own ambition or lack thereof. He shrugs at the sadness, then wallows in her, the only friend of his left in town. “We’re always somewhere between forever and walking away,” he sings during “You Turn My Life Around,” a kind of knee-breaking love song. Say what you want puts a pin in several of those places.

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A decade ago, Paisley, happily married and soon to be a father, opened up about how songs tended to get him into trouble. Lovers would wonder if a new batch of breakup songs were prescient or illusory, even as he protested that they were about the past. Selected from a cache of over 250 demos, Say what you want you feel tethered to the present again, scribbles on the back of your napkin that capture the domestic realities of things you might say in the middle of an argument or silently ask yourself when you’re down. “Almost” is the crux. With their lap-steel guitars, breezy harmonies, and swaying drums, the unassuming quintet nods to the bygone days of exotic Hawaiianism, especially when fused with country. But there’s no substitute in the lyrics: eight devastating lines about the Sisyphus effort to feel good enough for yourself, let alone someone else. “I was almost someone to someone who loved me,” Paisley sings twice, more curse than wish. His voice breaks between the syllables of the adverb the second time, stuck like a mountaintop with crooked teeth.

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