Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates

Kenny Chesney
Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates
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What’s the difference between a signature style and an artistic rut? It’s a question that’s hard to avoid contemplating when listening to Kenny Chesney’s latest record, which finds him exploring familiar musical and lyrical terrain, but with considerably less enthusiasm and insight.

That the album is a slog to listen to in its entirety is all the more disappointing because it starts off strongly. Lead single “Never Wanted Nothing More” has a wonderful, bouncy melody, and the bluegrass-tinged arrangement gives Kenny’s familiar vocals a new setting to explore. Even better is the second track and follow-up smash “Don’t Blink”, which challenges listeners to value their lives and the people that they love who are still around, because one day you might be looking back alone.

Then, it gets a little murky. “Shiftwork”, his duet with George Strait, is shockingly joyless. The detached vocals make sense at first, as the everyday life of a shiftworker is documented, but Chesney sounds just as disinterested when he’s taken an early retirement and started is now a bartender on a tropical island. Even the island beat is low-key.

There are points on the album that sound more like low-rent Kenny Chesney knock-offs, particularly “Got a Little Crazy” and “Scare Me.” It’s the type of material you’d expect a young wannabe Chesney to record, the left-overs at the Music Row publishing companies that were written with Chesney in mind but he passed over for better material. Only he didn’t, and he’s actually recording paint-by-number filler that should be beneath his status as a multi-platinum recording artist.

There’s been a lot of talk about “Workin’ for the Groceries”, due to the subject matter being a single mom who strips to pay the bills. It doesn’t take much work to make such a character sympathetic – the deck is already stacked against her, how can you not sympathize with her plight? The real challenge is making the character interesting, and the song focuses so much on the lurid details of her surroundings that you don’t get nearly enough of an inner monologue from the woman herself. It doesn’t explore the moral issues at play as effectively as City High’s “What Would You Do?” or write a believable character like the prostitutes in country classics like “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” and “Fancy.”

The album has a few other nice moments. There’s a cute wistfulness to “Wife and Kids”, where Chesney longs for family life. “Demons” is an interesting character study steeped in country music’s hellraiser traditions, but it’s a bit disconcerting to hear coming from Chesney, who has always been more about the celebratory side of alcohol and chasing women. It’s a stretch for him, doing a song that you’d expect to hear from Montgomery Gentry or Trace Adkins, but at least it’s an attempt to expand his palette a little bit.

Overall, there’s not much to recommend here that you haven’t already heard on the radio. This is an album for Chesney die-hards alone, unlikely to garner him many new fans. He’s capable of far more than this.

Buy: Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates

  1. Cowboy Blue

    While I admit this isn’t Kenny’s best work, I would have given it a 3 1/2. Its actually pretty good as far as concepts and its nice to see Kenny explore some new ground.

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    A littel harsh, but worth no more than three stars anyway

  3. MargieNo Gravatar

    Same songs, second verse! I think I’m just tired of hearing his voice…..it’s just not that good to me! He’s played entirely too much on country radio….JMO!

  4. Aeroyacine

    Between this album and Let It Go of Tim McGraw , Let It Go is 100times great. Logical because no one can reach the HIGH level of Tim McGraw; The GODFATHER of the Country Music

  5. Mike WhitakerNo Gravatar

    I was going to pass on even delving into commenting on this album, as I wholly agree with the review. Nothing more to add there. However, I couldn’t allow the comment by Aeroyacine to pass without a good healthy dose of chastisement. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU ON????????? Tim McGraw is the “Godfather” of country music? You, my friend, have no idea the level of stupidity you have achieved in just one mere sentence. Please, educate yourself, or at least read the archives of this blog and allow Kevin to do so. While Tim McGraw is a great artist, and I felt that Let It Go was his strongest release in years, he is far from the so called Godfather you speak of. Have the names Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and the entire slew of Hall of Famers that came before never crossed your mind, nor the airwaves you listen to? I believe that even Tim would laugh at your comment, and totally disagree. Its great that you’re a fan. I’m sure that he appreciates your support. But please, refrain from making such completly igonarant comments in public. It’s a shame for you, and a sad day to those of us who know better that there are folks like you who have no knoweledge or respect for the roots of Country Music.

  6. LynnNo Gravatar

    I most certainly agree with the original comments in regard to Kenny’s newest CD. There are possibly two songs on that album that are definitely good, but the album is pretty much a repeat of his previous albums. Having said that, the gentleman definitely has something that millions of people like!

    WOW, Mr. Whitaker, your healthy dose of “chastisement” for Aeroyacine definitely crossed a line. Words like “stupidity” and “ignorant” are unbeliveably harsh concerning an individual you know nothing about. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are extremely special to me as country artists and their music is some of the best out there (IMO), but I will agree thinking of Tim as the Godfather of country music is a bit farfetched at this point in time. BUT, this may not be the case for Aeroyacine! The possibility is he/she knows nothing about Hank, Johnny, or Ray, and is uninformed in regard to country music; but this doesn’t make him/her stupid or ignorant by any stretch of the imagination. Bad choice of adjectives, sir!

    I taught school for 18 years and I can tell you it takes very little to “destroy” an individuals self image and self confidence in regard to conversation or opinions. Since you obviously are well informed concerning Country Music, you have a great opportunity to educate others who are less informed. It would be ” a shame ” for you to miss out on the chance to educate others about Country Music and the artists who have made it a great musical genre!

    Aeroyacine, I will agree that Tim’s “Let It Go” album is 100 times greater than Kenny’s new CD, but I’m pretty sure Tim has a lot to do before he reaches that Godfather status you referred to! Keep posting your opinions, keep reading, and use the www to research (it is an awesome informational tool); this is a great way to increase your knowledge about anything you want to learn about! Have a good one! Lynn

  7. Aeroyacine

    Sorry Guys i wouldn’t shocked you, but i’m a big fan of Tim McGraw, so for me there’s no Hank Williams ,no Willie Nelson and the others are great than Tim McGraw !!!!!!!!!!! Tim have a special thing that no other Country Artist can give us!

  8. Mike WhitakerNo Gravatar

    Ok, I’m gonna leap in and, sadly, keep this line of conversation going. What, exactly, is it, Aeroyacine, that Tim McGraw can give us that no other artist has or can give us?

  9. leanne

    i am sorry but this is the dumbest arguement ever. honestly kenny and tim are great artists that have had their shares of good and bad cds. even as a huge kenny fan, i will admit that this was not his greatest work, however i believe that people should stop tearing him apart and forget. Don’t Blink, Dancin’ for the Groceries, Wife and Kids and Just not today were among the few good songs on the cd. kenny is a crowd favortie and i doubt that this letdown will effect his carrer at all