Doug Paisley, by virtue of his relatively plain sound, poses a small conundrum. Really, he’s just an unvarnished country everyman, his music plaintive enough that it need not be studied particularly closely. Understand that Paisley, a lefty from Toronto with no biological relation to Brad, builds just from guitar and voice. Anyhow, the occasional “alt country” description placed on Paisley seems that much more inappropriate upon the reissue of Uncle Tupelo’s 1990 classic of the form, No Depression, which is practically Pearl Jam by comparison. Whatever’s entering the mix here — be it piano courtesy of The Band’s Garth Hudson or, at the loudest, a Barrett-tone bullet of dizzy synth — arrives naturally, without much deliberation.
On Strong Feelings, his third full-length, Paisley’s pointed but oxygenated arrangements allow the best facets of his penmanship to bold-face themselves. It feels like an extension of a fairly typical blue collar day (I’m reminded of the 1963 Paul Newman vehicle Hud), not something you have to slow down to appreciate. The outlaw pulse of “To and Fro” is like a crawling Nick Cave song, and almost as verbal as that suggests. More regularly, though, Paisley is brief in his briefings, sighing at one point, “I am a shadow of my former self.” On “Radio Girl”, the opener, he recalls an encounter of 25 years ago (he’d have been about 12) with an unfamiliar voice somewhere on the dial, capturing the feeling — the same one of brightening up at the sight of a newfound movie crush — tenderly. The record’s warmth is felt right away, and it doesn’t really leave the picture.
Two ingredients not just innate but essential to most great country records are the refrains and the personality. Strong Feelings has a healthy supply of both — a case-in-point being the gently invading earworm “Radio Girl”. Later on in the album, Paisley finds chemistry duetting with Toronto singer Mary Margaret O’Hara, who brightens “What’s Up Is Down” and the partly whistled “Because I Love You”. It’s comforting to hear the easy companionship that Paisley (a steady but somewhat Zen kinda guy you can picture on a barstool next to, say, George Saunders) has met as he navigates the lonelier aspects of life.
Essential Tracks: “Radio Girl”, “It’s Not Too Late (To Say Goodbye)”, and “To and Fro”