Brad Paisley’s 11th studio release is virtually guaranteed to secure the singer’s reign as the king of minivan country for at least another year. For the first 10 of its 15 tracks, it alternates funny songs (the best of which, “High Life,” is a “Weird Al” Yankovic-worthy tale of lawsuit-happy hillbillies) with love ballads or feminist paeans (“Shattered Glass” is about the proverbial ceiling). But after “Gone Green” — a genial tale of a redneck turned environmentalist — fades, humor’s set aside and earnestness takes over completely.
A clip of John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech kicking off the moon landing program (“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”) introduces Paisley’s latest Big Statement song, “American Flag on the Moon,” about how we, his countrymen, are so awesome, he just wishes we could all get along and do awesome things together, as a country. (He uses the words “gridlock” and “bickering,” like a panelist on Meet the Press.) Then comes the final one-two punch: the hooray-for-real-America “Country Nation” and the acoustic bonus track, “Me and Jesus.”
Like Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun, Moonshine in the Trunk is more genially witty than hilarious. And his band is as impressive as Yankovic’s; they seamlessly blend guitar virtuosity (Paisley assays blues, country and some metallic shredding straight off a late-’80s Judas Priest album), emotive violin, explosive drums and bursts of crowd-shouted backing vocals. His love songs (“Perfect Storm,” “Cover Girl,” “You Shouldn’t Have To”) are still less interesting than his comedy or his yay-America material, but Moonshine is as perfectly sequenced as a political rally, carrying the listener along its 51-minute journey from beer-drinking to romance to testifying without a single speed bump along the way, unless the clunky dialog between Paisley and Carrie Underwood about the virtues of Chik-Fil-A’s menu, on “High Life,” bugs you.