Kenny Chesney has kept us guessing with his most recent albums. ‘Songs For The Saints’ saw a return to the island vibes of ‘Be As You Are’ and ‘Life On A Rock’, whilst ‘Cosmic Hallelujah’ was firmly situated in the mainstream fold. With his new project, ‘Here and Now’, Kenny goes back to his much more familiar comfort zone of feel-good-feeling-inducing stadium anthems, mixed with a touch of ‘island’ Kenny for good measure. It’s his most categorically Chesney album for quite a few years, and one the die-hard No Shoes Nation fan base will surely appreciate.
The tone of the album is set from the off with the thumping ‘We Do’, which sets the scene of a 70,000 capacity stadium crowd clapping and singing along in true No Shoes Nation style, followed by the title track ‘Here and Now’ which soars with its energetic, electric-guitar dominated melody. In a recent interview with Bobby Bones, Kenny said – “Your live show is a direct result of the songs you go into the studio and record, and I knew there was a certain energy I wanted for this record”, and that’s evident all the way through. There’s a synergy through the album, and a real back-to-basics feel that just works so well. Kenny’s at a stage in his career where there’s no need to be experimental; just do what you know, and the fans will lap it up.
The album’s big stand-out is the third track, ‘Everyone She Knows’, written by Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, and Shane McAnally, which was no surprise whatsoever. These guys have been involved in most of Kenny’s best songs in recent years in different combinations, including ‘Wild Child’, ‘American Kids’, ‘Every Heart’ and ‘Get Along’. You know within 10 seconds whether a track has the potential to be a huge country radio hit, and ‘Everyone She Knows’ has it all. A super-infectious hook, an ear-worm of a guitar lick and a big summer time party melody. A #1 hit within a year from now – I’ll stick my neck out on the line with that one!
However, ‘Here and Now’ isn’t all big stadium anthems by any stretch of the imagination. There are some lovely laid-back moments that showcase Kenny’s timeless voice and storytelling ability to perfection. ‘Knowing You’ sees Kenny reminiscing about someone special in his past; nostalgic with no regrets. Written by Adam James, Brett James and Kat Higgins, it’s classic Kenny Chesney and another of the album’s major stand-outs.
“God, we were so alive,
I was a kid on a carnival ride,
Holdin’ my breath ’til the moment
Where you’re gonna leave me too soon
I’d do it all over,
’cause, damn, it was good knowing you.”
Similarly, ‘Someone To Fix’ takes us back to the likes of ‘Wild Child’ with its gorgeous, acoustic-guitar driven melody, written by Jon Nite and Scooter Carusoe from a standpoint of a very self-critical individual, feeling undeserving of someone’s love and deep guilt for burdening their life. It’s a dark one, but a moment of real depth and meaning on the album which you’ll enjoy more with every listen.
I must address one gripe I have about the album, which is the lead single, ‘Tip Of My Tongue’. It’s a song the record truly could have done without, and is the weakest track on offer. It’s almost as if it was chosen purely as a publicity ploy due to Ed Sheeran’s involvement, rather than the quality of the song. I must have heard this track over 100 times since its release as a single, and I’m still struggling to figure out whether there’s something deeper in the lyrics than just a filthy sexual fantasy. Not one of Kenny’s finest moments by any stretch of the imagination.
The quality soon returns though, as the album comes to a fantastic close with ‘You Don’t Get To’, ‘Beautiful World’, and ‘Guys Named Captain’. ‘You Don’t Get To’ flips the earlier track ‘Someone To Fix’ completely on its head, written from a feeling of pure anger and frustration, being done with that person who keeps trying to crawl back into your life. Another one that deserves its place on country radio playlists as a standalone single at some point.
‘Beautiful World’ and ‘Guys Named Captain’ almost feel like tracks that didn’t quite make the cut for ‘Songs For The Saints’ (which isn’t a criticism of the quality). ‘Beautiful World’ is a warm, summertime singalong which suits Kenny’s style to a tee, whilst ‘Guys Named Captain’ strips the instrumentation right back to the bare bones, with CMA winners Mac McAnally and John Hobbs on acoustic guitar and piano, respectively. It’s a tribute to those free-spirited ‘guys named captain’ who live for the sea and the islands, which is synonymous with much of Kenny’s material and is a fitting closing track.
Kenny’s output has been a little hit-and-miss in recent years, with the exception of the superb ‘Songs For The Saints’ album. But with ‘Here and Now’, there seems to have been a realisation of what works and what the fans crave, and it’s a sublime collection to add to his stellar back catalogue. One of the best albums of 2020 so far.