Though he’s developed a healthy sideline over the last few years co-hosting the Country Music Assn. Awards with Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley turned up Sunday night on that show’s rival broadcast, the Academy of Country Music Awards.
So far, so good, right?
One of country music’s smartest, most charismatic stars, Paisley improves any awards show on which he appears -- and with performances such as Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s weirdly wooden “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” the ACMs needed more help than most.
But if Paisley’s signature smirk provided a welcome spark, the new single he performed was a less happy addition.
Titled “River Bank,” the tune is either a razor-sharp send-up of bro-country cliché -- or a pathetic embodiment of the same from a songwriter capable of far, far more.
“We got an inner tube, we got a trailer hitch / We’re near the river and far from rich,” Paisley sings over an appealingly percussive twang-funk groove, “But we have got each other and gas in the tank / We’re laughing all the way to the river bank.”
Given the general excellence of Paisley’s catalog -- and his proven flair for satire -- I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
But “River Bank” -- don’t forget -- comes only a year after the “Accidental Racist” kerfluffle, which means the single is likely an attempt to strengthen his base in the run-up to a new album.
I’ve got no problem with that idea, a familiar Paisley gambit. “This Is Country Music,” and “Old Alabama” served more or less the same purpose following the liberal fantasia of 2009’s “American Saturday Night.”
“In my adventurousness, I’m like the ocean,” Paisley told me in 2012. “I’ll venture onto the shore a certain amount, then go back and venture out a little further with the next wave.”
But “This Is Country Music” and “Old Alabama” -- the latter a lyrical fake-out featuring a guest appearance by the veteran country band Alabama -- were kind of brilliant, and not in spite of their traditionalism but because of it.
“River Bank,” as catchy as it is, feels pretty shallow by comparison -- all flight, no bite. Listen below and decide for yourself.