How well does Eric Paslay navigate around the handful of cliches that have been dominating country music in recent years? His self-titled debut has a song called Country Side of Heaven, the title alone pleading for an eye roll.
And it does take the fetishism of rural life to an extreme, setting fishing, back porches and sweet tea in the great beyond. But it plays out so sweetly, ending with a request to find him when you get there, you forget what a cliche fest it is. And Paslay knows he’s having fun with this.
Paslay first made a name for himself writing No. 1 songs for Jake Owen, the Eli Young Band and others. And his songwriting skills elevate his own performance, which Red, White & Boom fans will see Sunday evening.
Probably the album’s highlight is Song About a Girl, which takes those well-worn country tropes and says at their essence, they’re all songs about girls: “don’t think too hard, dig too deep, or read between the lines, It’s a song about a girl.”
Paslay doesn’t so much skewer country stereotypes, like Kacey Musgraves, as he plays with them for an engaging album he should be proud to put his name on.
He sets everything in an easy groove and his pleasant voice with some clever touches like the fiddle and guitar riff that opens his big hit, Friday Night.
Like with Heaven, Paslay shows a spiritual side several times in this album, including his own version of Deep As It Is Wide, a song he first recorded with Amy Grant and Sheryl Crow. His more modest rendition of the song actually has a deeper sense of wonder than the trio, which really focused the listener on the performance.
But the best example of this is Less Than Whole, a song about forgiveness which could teach the vast majority of the contemporary Christian music community a thing or two about writing songs of faith. It coveys a strong message without beating the listener over the head with religious imagery or language.
And that is ultimately this newcomer’s gift: a deft hand at songwriting that raises his work above many of his contemporaries. While others seem to be trying to play a role, we get the sense Paslay is being himself.