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" I have two voices,” says Brad Paisley.  “One is as somebody who conveys the lyric of a song.  The other is as a guitar player.”
With Play, Brad indulges that remarkable second voice, bringing to the forefront his long-standing love for and mastery of the guitar, a gift that in 2008 earned him his first GRAMMY—Best Country Instrumental Performance—for “Throttleneck,” from his Platinum-certified 5th Gear album.
“This record,” he says of Play, “is essentially my love affair with the guitar.”

With five stellar exceptions, Play is a purely instrumental project that celebrates the guitarists and styles that have helped form this quintessential modern country guitar slinger.  Those exceptions, including the project’s leadoff single, “Start a Band,” are duets—one with a peer, one with a key early influence, one with an entertainment icon, and two with heroes who helped define their respective genres.

“Start a Band” features another of country’s premiere all-around performers, Keith Urban, a natural for collaboration with Brad.

“I told Keith we could either write a really fast guitar instrumental just to try to blow people’s minds,” he says with a smile, “or record this song that had been pitched to me about starting a band.  I sent it to him and he cracked up—he loved it—and I think when our fans say, ‘We want to hear you play together,’ they really want to hear us sing together just as much.”  The result is the best of all worlds—two talented vocalists, plenty of world-class picking and a great deal of Paisleyesque fun.

Other vocal collaborations are filled with instrumental treats, as well.  There is “More Than Just This Song,” a tribute to guitar mentors featuring Steve Wariner, one of Brad’s inspirations in the ‘90s; “Come on In,” a duet built around a track begun by the late Buck Owens, who wrote the song; and “Let the Good Times Roll,” a rollicking journey with the legendary B.B. King through one of the most upbeat and life-affirming blues numbers ever committed to tape.

The disc also includes Paisley’s #1 single, “Waitin’ on a Woman,” in a version not previously available on another album, as the collaborative spirit continues with Andy Griffith, whose vocals alongside Brad appear here as they were heard in the song’s award-nominated music video, in which Griffith guest starred.

Beyond those songs, the eleven instrumentals that make up the bulk of the album—written or co-written by Paisley, often with longtime producer and friend Frank Rogers—feature a rainbow of musical genres, comprising a primer of guitar styles and of Brad’s influences.

“We just kind of set out without a map and ended up all over one,” he says.

There are nods to surf music (“Turf’s Up”), rock (“Departure”), electrified bluegrass (“Kentucky Jelly”) and gospel (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”), and tips of the hat to Les Paul (“Les Is More”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Rock City”) and Stevie Ray Vaughan (“Playing with Fire”), among many others.  Brad puts together a veritable Guitar School with “Cluster Pluck,” a chicken-pickin’ extravaganza featuring a Who’s Who of modern guitarists who happen to be “seven of my most important influences”:  James Burton, Albert Lee, Redd Volkaert, John Jorgenson, Vince Gill, Steve Wariner and Brent Mason.

“These are all guys I know very well and was heavily influenced by,” he says, “so I wanted to have them on here.  This is a glimpse into who I am.”
Play also features two songs written specifically for the other two members of the Paisley nuclear family—“Huckleberry Jam,” which kicks off the album, for son William Huckleberry Paisley (“I wanted to write a song encompassing his enthusiasm and energy”), and for wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley, “Kim,” a lovely acoustic tribute to love.

Throughout, Brad relied on the instincts that have steered him unerringly from his debut single, “Who Needs Pictures,” through five Platinum and multi-Platinum albums.  In all, he’s tallied a dozen #1 singles—and in 2008, his record-setting eighth #1 in a row marked the longest string of chart-toppers by any country artist in the 18-year history of monitored airplay—a feat he accomplished with songs that are alternately poignant and funny but always dead-on in dealing with the human condition.

Even without lyrics, Paisley’s songcraft on Play treats listeners to instrumentals that are entertaining enough to speak for themselves.  “‘Turf’s Up’ was a good example of something that when we finished, I thought, ‘People are really going to like this.’”

The sense of joy and adventure Brad brought to the proceedings is everywhere in evidence.  Interspersed with little musical asides and infused with a sense of fun, Play is Brad’s full expression of styles he could only hint at on his previous albums.

“It’s like a director that’s only done short films up until now,” he says, “and finally gets his feature.  It’s fun to be able to explore each of these avenues fully.”

Guitar aficionados will pick up nods to guitar greats and groups of all kinds, with Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Robben Ford, the Eagles, Deep Purple, the Allman Brothers and Tal Farlow, among many.  Those who appear on Play represent not only a great cross-section of styles but also a fantasy team of sorts.

“I’ve had a dream couple of months,” he says.  “With B.B. and all these guitar players, and editing and singing with Buck, it was like getting to live at Disneyland for a couple of months, and I loved it.”

That experience represents just the latest chapter in a tale that has brought the small-town West Virginia boy to the pinnacle of the country music world.  And for Paisley’s fans, the seeds of Play were there to be seen from his first release, the million-selling Who Needs Pictures, which featured the instrumental track, “The Nervous Breakdown.”
The inclusion of an instrumental on his debut was just one of the precedents that would also mark subsequent albums—humor, a gospel song, producer Rogers, and Paisley’s consistently inventive guitar work and well-crafted hit songs.  That series of hits would come to include “He Didn’t Have to Be,” “We Danced,” “Celebrity,” “Little Moments,” “Mud on the Tires,” “Ticks,” “Online,” “Letter to Me” and “I’m Still a Guy.”

Brad was quickly acknowledged as one of country music’s most original and multi-talented artists, and his work has attracted collaborators both on record (Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Bill Anderson) and in his videos, which have been peopled by an extraordinary cast of characters, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Jason Alexander, William Shatner, Jerry Springer, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Swift, Jim Belushi, Andy Griffith and his wife Kimberly, among others.

The awards were quick in coming, including Album of the Year and Male Vocalist awards from both the CMA and the ACM, as well as Entertainer nominations from both organizations—a testament to the sheer breadth of Paisley’s career success on every level, including that of a tour headliner whose concerts in 2008 sold more than half a million tickets in just the first eight months of the year.

Now, with Play, Brad puts all his talents to work while concentrating on his passion for the guitar, a passion he has chased since he was 8 and his grandfather gave him his first one—a Sears Danelectro Silvertone with an amp in the case.  The love affair with the instrument that began then is still going strong, and Play is proof that it is still helping Brad Paisley produce some of modern country’s best music.