REVIEW: Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

13221754_10154190249038633_4225336256891147632_nWe start with a question. What do you do when the style of country music that you are associated with suddenly isn’t popular anymore? When the Nashville major labels turn their backs on you and your music has no possibility of being played on the radio.

Pretty tough, particularly when you have a career that has charted over 30 singles on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs and 8 number 1 singles.

This was the situation facing veteran country singer Mark Chesnutt who has now released his first album in 6 years.

He has effectively been out of the national spotlight since 1998 when he had his last number one with a cover of Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’.

He has continued touring but admits that in recent times the venues have become a little smaller. He has also maintained his musical output but without the assistance of country radio these have gone largely under the radar save for a minor hit in 2007 with a Charlie Rich cover.

The one area that he refuses to compromise is the style of music and this leads us to the release of an album that epitomises everything that Mark Chesnutt is about.

It’s become a harsher environment these days for the traditionalists. With the exception of Garth Brooks it is difficult to highlight anyone who was selling country music in vast numbers in the 80’s and continues that trend now.

Fortunately for artists like Chesnutt the digital age has diminished the power of the record companies. Suddenly self promotion through social media is feasible and very affordable. The age of do-it-yourself album releases is now upon us.

Chesnutt won’t need radio play to spread the word. He can and has banged his own drums with the assistance of Facebook and Twitter, and his loyal fans and country music traditionalists have responded.

There is suddenly interest in an artist who does not now fit the mould but continues to produce high quality traditional country music. We have 13 tracks that will be very well received but won’t feature on country radio.

Chesnutt is a fine singer but by his own admission he is not a song writer. His strength is his ability to select a good song and having had the pleasure or repeated plays we can vouch that he sure has chosen fine songs.

The identity of those song writers is a little surprising. Randy Houser, Jerrod Niemann, Brett Eldredge, Blaine Larsen and William Michael Morgan all contribute.

Is there a pool of fine untapped songs just waiting for the right singer?  It certainly seems that way.  Some may be familiar. ‘Is It Still Cheating’ was recorded by Justin Haigh and written by Jamey Johnson Randy Houser and Jerrod Niemann. “When you’re lying next to him and I’m lying next to her is this still cheating”.

It’s a great song that is reminiscent of the material that Charlie Rich or Kenny Rogers were recording 30 years ago. It has the potential to become a country standard and Chesnutt makes it his own.

There is also a tribute to Merle Haggard ‘There Won’t Be Another Now’ recorded by the Hagg and written by Red Lane that concludes the album.

The subject matter of choice that pervades the album is relationships, particularly the break ups and heartaches that follow. ‘She Ought To Miss Me By Now’ should be the anthem for anyone aching to reconnect and ‘Lonely Ain’t The Only Game In Town’ basically does what it says on the tin.

‘Never Been To Texas’ is a commentary upon the alleged and totally false suggestion that real country music is dying. Come to the Texan heartlands and see for yourself the masses that gather at the bars and Honky Tonks is the mission conveyed in the lyrics of the song. Chesnutt’s two finger song at the forces that exclude him perhaps, but having seen the enthusiasm at the recent Wolvestock and Buckle & Boots Festivals here in the UK for line dancing, we guess that the clock hasn’t stopped ticking on traditional country music.

Most of this album will provide rich pickings for the two steppers.

It will also be very well received by those who crave tradition. It’s an album that has a retro feel with modern production values.

We leave the last words to Mark Chesnutt himself, “there’s no bro-country, there’s nothing that sounds like rap. If you’ve got a CD that came out by me in 1994, that’s pretty much what you’re gonna get, except hopefully better songs, better sound and an hopefully better-singing me”.