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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Country musician Brad Paisley sets himself apart from the pack by adding a certain wit to his radio hits. He continues that tradition on his new album called "5th Gear."

A review now from our critic, Will Hermes.

(Soundbite of music)

WILL HERMES: Mainstream country music dudes tend to fall into one of three category. You've got the roughneck, good old boys like Toby Keith. You've got the country gentlemen like Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw. And you've got the guys who seem like they want to be rockers, but can't quite get wild enough like Dierks Bentley and Mr. Nicole Kidman, I mean, Keith Urban. But Brad Paisley doesn't fit neatly into any of these categories.

(Soundbite of song "All I Wanted Was A Car")

Mr. BRAD PAISLEY (Singer): (Singing) My buddy Blake was all-state with dreams of the NFL. Jenny McClain had big brains. She got a scholarship to Yale. Then there was Hershel, did two commercials, and he was gonna be a movie star. But all I wanted was a car. All I wanted was a car...

HERMES: For starters, Paisley is not just a great storyteller, but that rare triple threat: a singer and a songwriter who can also play the hell out of a telecaster.

(Soundbite of music)

HERMES: The thing I like best about Brad Paisley, though, is his songwriting wit, which feels true to country tradition, while generally sidestepping cow-path cliches. His single, "Ticks," for instance, is a classic, honky-tonk come-on that updates the timeless roll in the hay fantasy with the unfortunate reality of Lyme disease.

(Soundbite of song "Ticks")

Mr. PAISLEY: (Singing) Cause I'd like to see you out in the moonlight. I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks. I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers, and I'd like to check you for ticks.

HERMES: And Paisley's new single, "Online," is probably the best country song ever written about the Internet.

(Soundbite of song "Online")

Mr. PAISLEY: (Singing) I work down at the Pizza Pit and I drive an old Hyundai. I still live with my mom and dad. I'm 5 foot 3 and overweight. I'm a scifi fanatic, a mild asthmatic. And I've never been to second base. But there's whole 'nother me that you need to see. Go checkout MySpace. Because online I'm out in Hollywood. I'm six-foot-five and I look damn good. I drive a Maserati. I'm a black belt in karate and I love a good glass of wine.

HERMES: Paisley can also dig deep on the ballads. His tear-jerking duet with Alison Krauss a while back, "Whiskey Lullaby," won the Country Music Award for song of the year, and rightfully so.

His new duet with "American Idol" graduate Carrie Underwood doesn't measure up to "Whiskey Lullaby," but it's not bad. And while he sometimes gets corny when singing about church and family - like most mainstream country acts - his song craft is so solid, he generally gets away with it, like on the song "Letter to Me," where he goes back in time to give some advice to his 17-year-old self.

(Soundbite of song "Letter to Me")

Mr. PAISLEY: (Singing) At the stop sign at Tomlinson and Eighth, always stop completely don't just tap your breaks. And when you get a date with Bridgett, make sure the tank is full. On second thought, forget it. That one turns out kind of cool.

HERMES: In songwriting, like all writing, the truth is in the details. And Brad Paisley clearly pays attention to them. I mean, after writing a song as good as "Online," most guys would lay down their guitar, crack open a longneck and call it a day.

But after a set of line about how the hip narrator is really a geek who plays tuba in a marching band, Paisley ends the song the only way a tradition-minded, restlessly creative, and slightly puckish country music star could.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Brad Paisley's new CD is called "5th Gear." Our reviewer is Will Hermes.

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