The expectation levels tend to be raised when a new Kenny Chesney album drops. He is country music royalty and has been dining at the top table for many years.
Over a career that has now spanned 17 albums he has released his fair share of classics. His greatest hits would grace anyone’s record collection and his live shows are rarely hosted outside huge stadiums. The opportunities for Chesney hugely exceed the norm. He has the pick of the litter in terms of Music Row songwriters output. No expense is spared on production, mastering and marketing, hence the anticipation.
Chesney isn’t allowed to be average. There really has to be the ‘wow’ factor somewhere. This is the guy who was responsible for ‘Come Over’, ‘Sing ‘Em Good My Friend’, ‘Don’t Blink’ and ‘Beer in Mexico’. He also sang ‘She Thinks My Tractors Sexy’ but we perhaps won’t go there.
He has utilised the song writing talents of Nashville heavyweights Shane McAnally, Josh Osbourne, Ross Copperman and David Lee Murphy amongst others. Chesney’s contribution is limited to a quarter share on ‘Noise’ and a half share on ‘Coach’, which contrasts hugely with 2013’s ‘Life On A Rock’ album where Kenny had a huge role in writing the songs. Personally I thought that this was the pick of his recent albums but it didn’t produce a single that achieved top 40 on the pop chart. That maybe the nub of the issue.
Kenny Chesney is a standard bearer. He will be honoured with an exclusive award at the upcoming CMA’s for his global prominence as a performer and recording artist. However despite the recent resurgence of Stapleton-led traditional country music I can’t help think that Kenny is still playing this very safe.
There isn’t a great deal that will appeal to the traditionalists here. That’s not to say that this is poor album. It’s an album that gets better with familiarity. We know that Kenny would never consider himself a banner carrier. No one expected an album of roots Americana especially when the pop-country ‘Noise’ and the collaboration with Pink, ‘Setting The World On Fire’ were released pre-album as lead singles.
However the emphasis here is hugely loaded towards future stadium anthems. Tracks such as ‘Rich And Miserable’ and ‘Bar At The End of The World’ with the screaming electric guitars will surely find an audience at Chesney’s mega tours.
There are mellower moments. ‘Jesus and Elvis’ is penned by Americana stalwarts Hayes Carll, Alison Moorer and Matraca Berg. They have created a song that tells a festive story and there is no one better to portray that story than Kenny Chesney. It’s a welcome interlude, a fine poetic tale of locals in a small bar decorating for Christmas. It includes a rare pedal steel interlude and backing vocals from Moorer. Despite the heavy pop influence in the majority of the album, I would hazard a guess that this track will be a huge favourite. It’s a song that has its roots in Austin, Texas. Carll recently suggested that his influence was ‘Lala’s Little Nugget’. Chesney always sang a good “bar song”.
The album thrives when Chesney and his producers go easy on the electrics. The opener ‘Trip Around The Sun’ with its heavy use of banjo’s and mandolin is a likely future single. The world may be falling apart but the he is powerless to stop it and may just as well go down happy.
“Well they say the sea is rising, well that’s alright with me cause there ain’t no other place than on the sea I’d rather be”
Kenny has described the track as the core of the album in many ways. It contains the line “It’s a cosmic hallelujah that we’re sitting here right now”. It’s a song that will put a smile on your face and they are usually the best songs.
‘All The Pretty Girls’ was written partly by Josh Osborne who has previous with Chesney having penned ‘Come Over’ in 2012. Osborne has 4 writers credits on the album including ‘Setting The World On Fire’. This guy has become an integral member of the Music Row hit-making fraternity. His songs have been all over country radio for the last 4 years and his contribution to the album ensures the continuity that Chesney clearly encourages. Good time catchy pop songs that won’t stretch the boundaries but will resonate with the Chesney fan base.
The exception to the rule is ‘Rich And Miserable’ which is Kenny’s rant at the unrealistic consumerism fuelled by the American dream. I’m not sure that someone who is a multi millionaire can be considered suitable to deliver this sermon from the pulpit. Kenny Chesney singing “we won’t be happy till we’re rich and miserable” seems a little out of focus with the image that he usually presents.
He sounds a lot more plausible on ‘Winnebago’, an acoustic driven road song that Kenny has always made his own. It’s a country song written by David Lee Murphy who himself came to Nashville to make country music. Traditional country escapism sang by Kenny Chesney. It really doesn’t get much better.
The album concludes with ‘Coach’. He has always expressed his love for US sports. Back in 2010 ‘The Boys Of Fall’ was supported by a video that features famous football players and coaches and this is basically 2016’s updated version without the emotion that the earlier song conveyed.
Kenny Chesney doesn’t make bad albums. He just doesn’t often make classic ones either and that’s where the expectation isn’t met. He remains in the zone but I can’t help thinking that it’s the comfort zone.