By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Brad Paisley's star shines brighter in the eyes of his young sons for writing two songs for the soon-to-be released animated movie "Cars 2."
Huck, 4, and Jasper, 2, are thrilled their 38-year-old father can recite tidbits about the making of the Disney movie and provide access ahead of its June 24 opening in theaters.
Paisley's songs for "Cars 2" are polar opposites of his album, "This Is Country Music," which tops the "Billboard" country album chart.
"My friend John Lasseter, who directed the movie and runs Pixar, called me and asked if I'd mind stepping out of my comfort zone and write a song for the movie with British pop star Robbie Williams," Paisley told Reuters.
"It really was out of my comfort zone, more like Led Zeppelin or The Who, but it was really fun," said Paisley, who won a Grammy in 2008 for Best Male Country Performance for his hit "Letter to Me."
In the movie, Lightning McQueen (a race car voiced by Owen Wilson) and tow truck Mater (Daniel Whitney, known as Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas to compete in the first World Grand Prix. Nothing goes as planned, and Mater discovers some things are not as they seem in this tale of intrigue.
"The theme of the movie encompasses spies, cars, international intrigue and comedy, which is really a 'Collision of Worlds,' so that's what we called the song," said Paisley.
A second song, "Nobody's Fool," was also a change for the singer-songwriter whose hits include "American Saturday Night," "Alcohol," and "Online."
"It's me doing more of an Eric Clapton-type blues ballad about the saddest part in the film, when Mater realizes that since people think he's playing the part of a fool, he is a fool. But Mater also realizes that's just who he is, and that was inspiring to me."
The soundtrack from Walt Disney Records arrived in stores on Wednesday.
As for his regular job, Paisley's latest offering, "This is Country Music," honors the music that he grew up singing and playing in the small town of Glen Dale, West Virginia. At 13 he began performing on radio's "Wheeling Jamboree."
A major thrill was to record with his musical heroes, the group Alabama, on a tune Paisley wrote called "Old Alabama."
Randy Owen, lead singer of that group, recalled how nervous Paisley was when cuing up the final mix of the song.
"His hand shook when he turned the CD player on, and I thought how neat that someone respects the music and the people who had gone before him to be nervous about playing me the song," Owen said.
"I really did grow up playing more of their music in those venues I played in the Ohio Valley than anybody else," Paisley said of Alabama. "When I played Randy the song for the first time, I wanted him to feel the magic that I felt."
"We learn from the people we like," Paisley said, of the model for his "H20II: Wetter and Wilder" tour.
"I remember Randy and Alabama hauling those semi-trucks down the road, and putting on a show at the Civic Auditorium in Wheeling with all these lights and a set like nobody had ever seen before ... they were this gargantuan group that rewrote the book. So yeah, I aspire to that grand scale of touring."
Fans have learned to expect the unexpected from the Country Music Association's reigning "Entertainer of the Year." Paisley lives up to his reputation with sizzling guitar solos, innovative stage antics and hit after hit.
His opening acts are hot as well: Blake Shelton is one of the judges of NBC's show "The Voice," and Jerrod Niemann has a recent hit in "One More Drinkin' Song."
The tour includes an afternoon of music from artists Sunny Sweeney, Brett Eldredge and Eden's Edge, along with water rides and a simulator where fans race alongside Brad in his Corvette.
(Editing by Andrew Stern)