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Music from the heart — and the guitar

If there was a "How to Become a Rock Star" handbook, "Write a Whole Bunch of Songs About Monogamy" wouldn't be a chapter. Sure, the occasional ballad could express undying love — you could rhyme "Heather" with "forever" or something — but your fans wouldn't think you actually, like, meant it. Which makes the towering success of Brad Paisley an especially refreshing thing. Over the course of a decade-plus career, the country singer/songwriter/guitarist hasn't settled for the typical subject matter, opting for clever party songs and awe-filled odes to married life instead of rudimentary sexual innuendo and empty flag-waving.

Friday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Paisley was such a consummate showman, and such a master of his instrument, that his wry, poignant lyrical observations acted as a cherry on top. Taking the stage to the simple, twangy chords of "Water," Paisley reveled in the wonderful clatter being made by his seven-piece ensemble. This, coupled with the tune's homage to H2O, captured something akin to the childlike joy of a cannonball on a 90-degree day.

Subsequent selections uncovered Paisley's sarcastic streak, like "Online," which gets to the core of many an insecure dude's Facebook addiction, and "Celebrity," a TMZ-inspired parody that includes lines like, "I can't wait to sue my dad." But when the artist pulled out the love songs, things got transcendent. On the slow-burning ballad "She's Everything," Paisley was impassioned, singing "I talk about her, I go on and on" and "She's a warm conversation that I wouldn't miss for nothing," interspersing it all with some truly lyrical solos.

Then there was "Waitin' on a Woman." Taking a cliched male complaint—women take forever to get ready—and turning it into a downright spiritual statement about true love, Paisley flipped the script on what you'd usually expect from a singer with a Y chromosome. By the end of the song, when the narrator is waiting in heaven for his bride to join him, its beauty was undeniable.

Now let's say you have a shriveled prune in place of a heart, and tracks like "Waitin' on a Woman" don't do much for you. Well, then you would've had Paisley's ax-slinging heroics to entertain you. The man is a guitar player of the highest order; on this night, he switched from smoking bluegrass passages to rock shredding and melody-clustered pop licks without breaking a sweat. Deeply romantic, thoroughly musical, not prone to writing songs about small towns, and bereft of an agenda save showing folks a good time, Brad Paisley is a rare bird in today's country music landscape.

He was preceded by Darius Rucker, whose country crossover attempt has resulted in some fairly satisfying stuff. Even though Rucker's old band, Hootie & the Blowfish, was unforgivably formulaic, the guy's rich, inviting voice was always a pleasant thing.

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Brad Paisley

With Darius Rucker and Justin Moore. Friday at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

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