There’s a moment we all must face when we realize that going away can help us find ourselves. For LGBTQ+ young people in rural areas, however, that choice is as painful as it is liberating: Why must you reject part of yourself to embrace the rest? That’s the main question in Paisley Fields’ triumphant new album, Limp Wrist.
This is Paisley’s most personal album to date. While he has discussed feelings of isolation from his roots in previous albums, Limp Wrist embraces that emotional churn with humor, sadness, defiance, and — a new color in Paisley’s palette — raw fury. “Blackhawk County Line,” the lead-off track, serves as a musical and lyrical overture to the rest of the album: Our hero shows up to high school to find he has been outed. The tension between yearning for a better place to be and wanting to stay in rural Iowa permeates Limp Wrist.
“Blackhawk County Line” pairs with “Ain’t Built for Speed,” a lighter sequel. Paisley and his hotshot band bring classic country fervor to a self-proclamation, an acknowledgment that what’s expected of you isn’t always the path you need to travel. Paisley’s delivery has a new rasp to it, a punk-rock fervor set to racing fiddles, chimes, and handclaps that recall the camp of ’60s country.
Paisley, a veteran of West Village piano bars and drag shows, brings camp in all its forms to Limp Wrist. “Flex” is a disco-infused barn burner that tells cheeky tales of sweaty workouts and flexing glutes. “Giddy Up Saturday Night” feels straight out of the 1940s, but for Paisley’s celebration of the colorful characters one meets partying in the queer clubs of New York City. It also seems to be a hat tip to his mentor Lavender Country: the sights and sounds Paisley describes mirror Lavender Country’s queer utopia in his own song “Lavender Country.”
For all that, though, there is substance. “Jesus Loving American Guy (Limp Wrist)” takes on the toxic masculinity of the good old boy who is otherwise extolled in country songs. Instead, Paisley encourages us to fight back, skewering geographic notions of “authenticity” for honesty of the self. As the song “Iowa” suggests, though, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of doubt and regret.
Limp Wrist is epic in scope — not a concept album, exactly, but it tells its story carefully and intentionally. Paisley assembled a veritable Avengers of artists to collaborate with them here: Co-writers Mya Byrne (who is readying an album of her own this fall) and Aron Blue lend their own deft craft to Paisley’s quick wit and fluid wordplay. Producer Andrija Tokic gave the album the vintage polish that solidifies it as a (queer) country classic. At the end of the day, though, its power is Paisley’s renewed commitment to peeling away his own defenses to create emotionally charged, authentic country music.
Paisley Fields’ Limp Wrist is out Aug. 26 on Don Giovanni Records.