Ten Years Later: Brad Paisley’s ‘This is Country Music’

Guest artists included Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow – and Clint Eastwood!

Written by Bob Paxman
Ten Years Later: Brad Paisley’s ‘This is Country Music’
WANTAGH, NEW YORK - AUGUST 30: Brad Paisley performs at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on August 30, 2019 in Wantagh, New York. (Photo by Kevin Kane/Getty Images)

Brad Paisley’s album This Is Country Music is celebrating a milestone tenth anniversary this month. This Is Country Music was released May 23, 2011, and marked the eighth album of Paisley’s still-blossoming career. It’s considered one of the more innovative albums of the past decade, paying tributes to the various artists that shaped Paisley’s career and musical style. But the honorees were not exclusively country artists that generally dot such projects. In addition to traditional musical pioneers like Alabama, Paisley also gave nods to surf-rock king Dick Dale, soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone, and even jazz great John Coltrane.

The album also featured a number of collaborations with an eclectic array of artists, ranging from Paisley’s good friend Carrie Underwood and other country stars like Alabama, Blake Shelton, and Marty Stuart, to pop queen Sheryl Crow, Eagles vocalist and solo star Don Henley, and the inimitable film star Clint Eastwood. This Is Country Music produced four hit singles, including the title track, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and was nominated for a CMA Award for Album of the Year. Here’s a look back at the album’s production, top songs, and the legacy that it left behind.

Brad Paisley; Cover art courtesy of Sony Nashville


To note that This Is Country Music was an ambitious project is akin to saying that basketball players are “tall.” The term really doesn’t do it justice. The approach that Paisley and his producer Frank Rogers took addressed several recurring themes like heartbreak, loss, and redemption, while tipping their various hats to Paisley’s musical heroes. Snippets of the title track, that were not included in the original recording, ran throughout the album to serve as interludes between some of the songs. This marked one facet of Paisley’s ongoing fascination with technology, sound editing, and modern musical concepts.

It also signaled that Paisley and his team were becoming more confident in the studio, allowing Paisley to take bold, out-of-the-box approaches. “There’s things that are no longer uncharted territory,” Paisley told CMT in 2011, “and that changes how you [make albums] as well. You make an album like This Is Country Music. That’s a different record than it would’ve been for my third album.”


The title track served notice of this fresh new strategy to making an album. Paisley wrote the song with frequent collaborator Chris DuBois and the writers referenced the topics that are often stated in country songs, subjects that aren’t always “cool” to the outside observer. As the second verse notes, ‘It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, little towns and mama/Yeah that might be true/But this is country music and we do.’ The song proceeds to assert that country music is about real life, encouraging listeners to “turn it up and sing along.” 

Paisley debuted “This Is Country Music” at the 2010 CMA Awards telecast, before even recording a studio version of the song. It received a positive reaction from the audience, and he released the final version of the song as a single in December of 2010, slightly more than a month after his CMA Awards performance. The lyrics contained references to a number of country classics, including “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Amarillo by Morning,” “Stand by Your Man,” “I Walk the Line,” and others. The single peaked at the No. 2 spot.

The follow-up single “Old Alabama” took a similarly creative approach, intertwining classic songs from the super group Alabama with an original tune co-written by Paisley. The old-fashioned love song checked off Alabama standards like “Tennessee River,” “Feels So Right,” and others, while Alabama members Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Teddy Gentry sang the bridge to the Alabama hit “Mountain Music.” Furthermore, the song namechecked some unusual artists for a country song, including Frank Sinatra, jazz legend John Coltrane, and that gravelly-voiced soul master Barry White. The “Old Alabama” single hit No. 1 after being released in March of 2011.

A roster of other guest stars appeared throughout the record. Carrie Underwood joined Paisley for a duet on the single “Remind Me,” which also hit No. 1. Blake Shelton was featured on “Don’t Drink the Water,” with Don Henley showing up for a guest stint on “Love Her Like She’s Leavin’.” For the traditional “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” Paisley employed an impressive trio of Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow, and country and bluegrass legend Carl Jackson.

All were outstanding choices that made perfect musical sense. But for one other guest shot, Paisley again went outside the normal borders and came up with an offbeat, but satisfying, selection. He actually featured the Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood on an instrumental titled, what else, “Eastwood,” but not for a vocal or a solo on piano, which Eastwood can play quite proficiently. Instead, Eastwood whistled throughout the instrumental tune. That’s right – whistled.

The two had met at the Kennedy Center Honors and became friends. “I spent the weekend with him and his wife a while back, right before I came up with the idea of the song,” Paisley told CMT. The music was based on the classic “Spaghetti Westerns” in which Eastwood starred and were highlighted by haunting soundtrack music from the composer Ennio Morricone. Again, who does this in a country album? Paisley had the unique vision, to be certain.

For the album, Paisley decided to pay homage to one of his guitar heroes, though not one of the usual suspects like Eric Clapton or the venerable bluesman B.B. King. Rather, Paisley chose the innovator of “surf rock” Dick Dale, whose experimentations with reverb and amplification were highly influential in not only Paisley’s technique but in others like Eddie Van Halen. Dale is ranked as one of the premiere guitarists in history, and his music was famously included in the soundtrack to the popular movie Pulp Fiction. Paisley’s tribute to Dale was the selection “Working on a Tan,” which he co-wrote with Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace.


This Is Country Music is a bold, groundbreaking album that may be a bit under appreciated for its bold outlook and willingness to explore new territory. It received mostly glowing reviews and is thought of to be one of Paisley’s best efforts.