A Higher 'Gear'

Brad Paisley says he called his upcoming album "5th Gear" for a few reasons. It is his fifth album, and a half-dozen of the songs mention some sort of vehicle. And, he adds, the Arista release is "an

Brad Paisley says he called his upcoming album "5th Gear" for a few reasons. It is his fifth album, and a half-dozen of the songs mention some sort of vehicle. And, he adds, the Arista release is "an aggressive-sounding album ... everything about it feels a little bit more intense than my previous albums."

The title -- and that growing intensity -- just as well describe what's happening with Paisley's career and life right now. His last album, "Time Well Wasted," has been certified double-platinum and won album of the year honors last year from the Country Music Assn. and the ACM. And he's burning up the road on his Hershey-sponsored Bonfires and Amplifiers tour with Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler and Jack Ingram.

The new project features a duet with Carrie Underwood on the song "Oh Love." Underwood toured with Paisley last year and the two would sing "Whiskey Lullaby." When he needed a female voice for the new duet, Underwood was a natural choice. "I'm a huge fan of her singing. She's just tremendous and deserving of everything she's getting," he says. "When I heard that song, it flipped me out, [especially the line] 'Strong like a mother holds her child.' If that doesn't appeal to me at this point, I don't know what does."

As he did on his previous album, Paisley also designed the cover. "As I look at the songs on this record, many are retrospective," he says. "There is a lot of looking back at high school and mistakes and things that I've done as a kid. That's what the album cover represents. You have the one photo staring in one direction and the other sort of walking off in the distance the other way backwards. Somehow it looked right."