Kenny Chesney | Here and Now | (Blue Chair/Warner Bros. Nashville)
4.5 out of 5
It’s easy to write Kenny Chesney off as the king of the beach or the boat party. But that misses the reality of the Tennessee hitmaker who’s spent the last two decades crafting hits pointed straight at the heart of No Shoes Nation.
“American Kids,” “Get Along,” “Wild Child,” “Noise” and even his David Lee Murphy duet “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” represent humanist battle cries for the 98% trying to make sense out of a world where talking heads scream, greed rules and the notion of being happy get lost in the shuffle.
More importantly, Chesney’s been a guy who beyond the hits remains steadfast in seeking quality songs that sound like real people wrote them out of a life lived instead calculating jingles in three hour increments. “Gulf Moon,” “Jesus & Elvis,” Guy Clark’s “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and his Dave Matthews’ duet “I’m Alive” speak to the best of what songwriting is.
Though he never intended Here and Now to be an album of sanity and come together for a world caught in social distancing, it is. Beyond the hard driving title track with its Bachman Turner Overdrive channeling introduction, which suggests we don’t know how much time we have, so we need to enjoy it no matter what it looks like, Chesney has again dug deeper than the “hits” suggest.
For his 19th record, Chesney delivers the portraits. Two significantly less than 2%-ers – Sunaco Charlie and a young woman playing for tips on a barstool in Colorado – embody that savor life ethos on the lightly tropical “Happy Does.” There’s also a rock star who blew it all who arrives in “Wasted” with a shoulder shrug and the idea of enjoying the ride leaves memories worth having.
Those feel good, and it’s what people want from the guy who sells stadiums. But they also want the minimalist “Guys Named Captain,” tender honoring the character of men who live on the water, and the 808 and acoustic guitar-merging “Everyone She Knows,” where a woman who doesn’t want to settle is caught between friends settling down and being a little too old for the life she’s been living.
Even more startling is the smelling salts clarity of how good simple country music sounds. A straightforward waltz called “Knowing You” showcases Chesney’s warm, slightly worn voice as a toast to someone gone and what was shared .The humanity shines through and beckons.
Nothing new, just classic country with nowhere to hide, no momentum to overdrive the emotion; an aesthetic revolution emerges in an undeniable four minutes.
Chesney also draws on the sexual tension that once defined country and secured Conway Twitty’s popularity. While “Tip of My Tongue,” released in a moment of creative combustion with Ed Sheeran and Ross Copperman over a year ago, obviously turns on getting down, “You Don’t Get To” creates the steamy sensual pull of the most carnal attractions tormenting a man resolved not to give in to a toxic lover, but knowing how good it can be. The latter, delivered in stream of the moment conversationality, works best when there’s space around his dusky tenor.
Obviously, there are the to-be-expected moments.
“Beautiful World” delivers that “Save It For A Rainy Day” positivity. “Heartbreakers” is the Petty/Mellencamp rock homage to adolescence. If they don’t deepen his legacy, they’re fine. But the opening “We Do” swaggers as an anthem for the most enduring fanbase to rise since Phish, a rallying cry of “Who gets to live like we do? WE DO” offers an invitation to a party with a lot more going on than rum drinks.