"He's able to keep one foot on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and the other foot on the CMA [Country Music Association] stage," says RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante of Brad Paisley's appeal. "He

"He's able to keep one foot on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and the other foot on the CMA [Country Music Association] stage," says RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante of Brad Paisley's appeal. "He understands what got us here, but he also has a way to present it in today's sounds that is very contemporary."

Indeed, Paisley's feet seem to have been everywhere in the past two years. The 28-year-old West Virginia native has become the country industry's most-acclaimed new artist-winning the CMA's Horizon Award, the Academy of Country Music's (ACM) top new male vocalist honor, and the TNN Country Weekly Discovery Award. His 1999 Arista Nashville debut, "Who Needs Pictures," has been certified platinum and is in the running for album of the year at the May 9 ACM Awards. His breakthrough single, "He Didn't Have to Be," has netted accolades, including song of the year and video of the year at the TNN Country Weekly Music Awards, and he's the newest cast member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Needless to say, his forthcoming "Part II," due May 29, will be one of the year's most closely watched new releases. "I don't think we are going to suffer from any sophomore slump," says Galante confidently. "He raised the bar. There's a definite maturity here in terms of what he did musically and vocally."

"Part II" is pretty much a continuation of the artistic vision that shaped "Who Needs Pictures." Most of the songs were written during the same time period. "It wasn't like I hibernated for a while and recently came up with the songs for this record," Paisley says. "They are all very much out of the same exact material, the same building blocks we had those first few hits out of. 'We Danced' [from the first album] and 'I Wish You'd Stay' [from "Part II"] were written within the same couple of months."

The title track is a beautiful ballad that finds Paisley wishing love was more like the movies, where the best ones get a sequel. Inspired by an old flame, Paisley says, "It's a personal song, but it's almost such a distant memory now that it's not painfully personal. At the time [I wrote it],, I don't think I could have sung it, but now it's been at least six years."

Paisley co-wrote 10 of the album's 13 cuts, many with frequent collaborators, including Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace, and the album's producer, Frank Rogers. He's also been writing/producing with MCA Nashville artist Chely Wright, who co-wrote "Come on Over Tonight." He says one of the most gratifying things about the success of his debut is it taught him "that all those people I had a hunch about, like Frank and my band, could easily step up to the plate and accomplish what we hoped to accomplish."

With Rogers once again at the helm and his band in the studio, Paisley delivered "Part II" with increased confidence. "On the first one, we were out to prove something," he says. "[With] this one we were out to accomplish something, which is a different mindset. This time we were out to outdo ourselves, as opposed to last time, [when] we were having to say, 'Hey, we can make a record, even though we've never done this before; trust us.' Now we get to focus on what all our dreams are for the project."

Paisley and his compatriots create albums that are very contemporary, loaded with songs oozing radio appeal, yet as he displays again on "Part II," his artistry also harks back to the days when George Jones, Buck Owens, and other legends delivered records that were aural feasts. In addition to mixing ballads and uptempos, Paisley interjects an instrumental, "Munster Rag," and a gospel classic, "The Old Rugged Cross," which is introduced by Opry veteran Little Jimmy Dickens. The song is taken from a live recording at the Opry on the night Paisley was asked to become a member.

The songs on "Part II" are a blend of heart and humor, reminiscent of the approach of the late Roger Miller. "I like the extremes in country music," Paisley admits. "I like the way Roger Miller could kill you with laughter and sadness all in the same record... That's just life, and I think music should, just like a good movie, be a reflection of real life emotions."

Paisley is equally comfortable with emotional extremes. He shines on both heartfelt ballads and on such tongue-in-cheek numbers as "All You Really Need Is Love" and "I'm Gonna Miss Her," which finds him battling an ultimatum from his woman, who says she'll leave if he spends yet another day fishing. On the chorus, he croons, "I'm sure it'll hit me/When I walk through that door tonight/That I'm gonna miss her/Oh, look there, I've got a bite."

"It's something that hasn't been said before in a song," says Paisley. "It's almost a party song, but at the same time, it's more of a celebration of a person's flaws. How much more country does it get than to celebrate flaws? It never ceases to amaze me how that song ends up coming off like a hit to crowds that have never heard it."

The first single from the album, "Two People Fell in Love," is already a hit, and currently perched at No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Paisley says it's one of his most favorite songs that he has written. "It explains the question, 'Why are we here?'" he says. "My parents met, and that's why I'm here. They fell in love, and it was great, and I'm the product. It's a nice feeling."

"I Wish You'd Stay" is a pretty ballad Paisley co-wrote with DuBois about loving someone enough to let her go. "It's something I'm proudest of in my past. In relationships, there have been some where I didn't have any pride, and I begged and looked like an idiot," he confesses, adding that "I Wish You'd Stay" was written about the time "when you realize that person needs to move on. So you get out the map, gas up the car, and get them ready. You tell them how much you're rooting for them, which is the honorable thing to do. I've done the honorable thing. I'm proud of that."

Paisley includes three outside cuts -- "The Old Rugged Cross"; Darrell Scott's portrait of a coal-mining community, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," which, Paisley says, feels "very personal"; and "Too Country," a Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon tune that features vocals by Owens, Jones, and Anderson. "I had to cut it," Paisley says. "I heard Bill Anderson do that at a writer's night and knew when I heard it that's really the statement I want to say... We live in a day and age when everything has to be cell phones, fast cars, and business meetings. Whatever happened to going over to grandpa's, sitting on the back porch playing guitars, and eating cornbread and biscuits?"

Many of Paisley's fans have already heard some of "Part II" during his performances on the current George Strait Country Music Festival tour, which runs through a June 10 finale at Texas Stadium near Dallas. On June 23, Paisley will kick off his own tour, playing fairs and festivals through mid-September.