After many years as a mid-level country artist, Kenny Chesney fused arena-size country with Caribbean rhythms to become one of the genre’s biggest stars of the 21st century.
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Chesney didn’t seriously start pursuing music until he was in college, despite being an enthusiast his entire life. While continuing his studies, Chesney played in a bluegrass band and for tips at a Mexican restaurant. He managed to finance a demo album and moved to Nashville in 1991. He played at a local honky-tonk called the Turf, and eventually landed a publishing deal in 1992 that led to a record deal with Capricorn in 1993.
His debut for the label, In My Wildest Dreams, found little success, but it laid the groundwork for a new deal with BNA Records. His second set, All I Need to Know, put him on the map. Throughout the nineties, he slowly built a career at radio and retail, as his songs inched higher on the charts and he moved from gold, to platinum, and then to multi-platinum sales by the end of the nineties.
Still, there was little to indicate that he was about to explode into superstardom. But as his live shows gained greater attention, Chesney began to incorporate Caribbean sounds into his music, styling himself as an island singer in the same vein as Jimmy Buffett. Through stronger song choices that helped repair the novelty act image that had been created with hits like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”, Chesney began to earn critical acclaim for his work.
By the mid-2000’s, Chesney was the biggest act in country music, selling millions of copies of his albums and more concert tickets than even the biggest pop and rock acts of the day. He dominated the awards circuit, and even managed to sell big numbers of indulgent side projects like Be Who You Are and Lucky Old Sun.
Today, Chesney remains a top concert draw and a core radio act. He is currently prepping another studio album and a co-headlining tour with Tim McGraw.
I’ve always liked Kix as a singer, so I was happy to see that this single exists. He’s got one of those modest-but-charming Everyman voices, the kind that makes every song feel like a conversation with your ol’ pal.
He also sounds positively thrilled to flex it for us again, which is just infectious. Listen to how he relishes every note of “New to This Town,” like he doesn’t want waste a moment of this reintroduction. Love that! I love that.
Just want to hear it on a different song. This one’s got some good bones – the main chorus cadence (before it becomes a crutch), the theme of wishing you could rewrite a history gone wrong. But the first verse about the younger man doesn’t set up a compelling launching pad for the rest of the song, and I don’t know if I buy Kix Brooks with this sound – pulsing verses, big rock chorus. Plus, the subject matter invites comparison to Tim McGraw’s dazzling “Old Town New,” and there aren’t a lot of songwriters who can go head-to-head with Bruce Robison or Darrell Scott, much less the two of ‘em together.
So as an appetizer, I can’t say it kix ass but…….! (I’m done writing forever.)
Written by Kix Brooks, Marvin Green & Terry McBride
As far as the Everywhere hits are concerned, this sixth and final single is the most frothy and least substantial.
That’s not to say it isn’t an entertaining listen, and in a way, it might be the most historically significant of the singles, given that it’s the blueprint for countless Kenny Chesney hits that followed.
Written by Steve Mandile, Jerry Vandiver, and Phil Vassar
Getting tired of the outstanding Tim McGraw reviews?
Then go read about Emotional Traffic. Fact is, Everywhere-era McGraw was as close to perfection as radio-friendly country music gets.
“Where the Green Grass Grows” is tightly produced, with an instantly recognizable opening fiddle. The urban burdens and backporch fantasies aren’t just cleverly constructed. They’re also brilliantly contrasted.
My personal favorite? Comparing the idyllic corn popping up in rows to the “supper from a sack – 99 cent heart attack.” But the entire song is chock full of imagery like that, funny and poignant and a little sad. All the stuff that great country music is supposed to be.
What on earth is a tumee, and why is Tim McGraw trying to pull it?
That was but one of the questions that my younger self had about “One of These Days.” It hit the radio during my freshman year in college. As a transplanted New Yorker studying in Tennessee, I couldn’t understand why my friends were flipping out about how powerful this song was.
I got the hype through the first and second verse, but it lost me in the third act. I actually thought he was getting married. After a few years down south, my Catholic self gradually learned the meaning of this very Baptist song. If this was my life story, I would’ve just gone to confession after these personal failings.
I’ve never been one to make evaluative judgments on denominations and faiths other than my own. If somebody else is taking a different path to God, I hope they have a meaningful journey and that we meet up at a shared destination.
But I will say one thing. If you’re looking to close a three act song with a dramatic resolution, “born again” is the way to go.
Written by Marcus Hummon, Monty Powell, and Kip Raines
If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable. – Mitch Hedberg
Emotional Traffic is a collection of poor choices.
First and foremost, the material is shockingly weak. Yes, McGraw has been slowly slipping over the last couple of albums, but the bottom has completely fallen out here.
Take a song like “Right Back Atcha Babe”, for example. It’s a hodgepodge of little details in the same vein as “Something Like That,” but none of them are believable. And why are they having the conversation anyway? It’s not like they’ve suddenly run into each other after a really long time. Why is he recapping the events like he’s got to get her caught up before this week’s episode?
“One Part, Two Part” and “I Will Not Fall Down” are Nashville songwriting at its laziest. They’re not even songs so much as they’re song titles. It’s all packaging and no product.
The album is polluted with that bizarre inversion of modern country music: The less a song has to say, the longer it takes to say it. Songs go on forever on this album. The bloated opener, “Halo”, doesn’t contain a single intelligible moment, despite five minutes of trying. “Touchdown Jesus” is a ridiculous concept to begin with, and could’ve made its point in two minutes instead of four, had McGraw had the good taste to cover Bobby Bare’s “Dropkick Me, Jesus” instead.
Look, you know you’re in trouble when nine tracks in, it’s a relief to hear “Felt Good On My Lips.” Sure, the melody’s so blatantly derivative of “Video Killed the Radio Star” that it makes Lady Gaga sound fresh and original. But at least it has a pulse, even if I’m still bewildered by the Incredible Machinery of it all.
And to be fair, there are some decent moments scattered throughout, like “Better Than I Used to Be” and “Die By My Own Hand”, but it’s all ground that McGraw’s covered before, and better, too. They’re just not worth sitting through Emotional Traffic for.
Had I not committed to writing this review, I don’t know that I would’ve listened to this album at all, certainly not for a second and third time. This level of work from this level of talent is nothing short of completely unacceptable.
One Sunday afternoon you go about rummaging through your attic, looking for items to donate to a local rescue mission…..and suddenly you find yourself re-acquainted with a bedroom poster depicting your favorite artist growing up, lightly caked in dust. At that very moment you let out a bittersweet sigh, and fondly stare into space as you reminisce of an early flame that came and went in your life, while that artist contributes the soundtrack to your saudade.
Which brings us to “Springsteen”: the third single from Eric Church’s breakout album Chief and follow-up to his first-ever chart-topping single “Drink In My Hand”.
Predictably, the track is another in a growing line of songs that purposefully references the name of another established artist or hit song (such as “Tim McGraw” and “All Summer Long”) for the purpose of reminiscing on a treasured memory, and is also heavy on references to some of the most definitive hits of that artist’s career (i.e. “I’m On Fire”, “Born to Run”, “Glory Days”, “Born in the USA”). On the surface, it appears little worth examining.
I invite you to gaze a little deeper.
“Springsteen” is every bit as semi-melancholy as it is a fond glimpse back at the past, with a gravity of shimmering sadness driving its production that is most closely tied to the Boss’s 1987 tortured-heart testimonial “Tunnel of Love”. Steered by a drum machine, and besprinkled with misty-eyed synthesizers and chatoyant glints of keyboard, “Springsteen” is without question far-removed from decidedly country soundscapes, but more resembles the sound of one of the Boss’s lesser-known releases, “Tougher Than The Rest”, albeit softer around the edges.
Church also channels Springsteen’s spoken-word style of singing here, with an understated, pensive and reflective vocal delivery in the verses that leaves you believing he is re-evaluating his slate of memory as he is speaking. The first verse, which sets the scene in reminiscing on a now seemingly distant world “somewhere between that setting sun, ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Born to Run'”, poignantly ends with the last line: “I can still hear the sound of you sayin’ don’t go…”
After a decidedly carefree, warm first verse overall, this last line before the first chorus sets the stage to the remaining direction of the track. Church sings the first chorus as though, upon looking back on the amplitude of the memory and suddenly feeling the sting of saudade, he feels the impetus to belt off his chest exactly what he sees in his mind’s eye when he thinks of that former flame: a seventeen-year old self gazing at the stars on a July Saturday night.
The second verse begins with an equal sort of urgency, where he croons:
“I bumped into you by happenstance, you probably wouldn’t even know who I am, but if I whispered your name, I bet there’d still be a spark…”
He goes on to suggest that he used to be gasoline, admitting that those were the “glory days” and, thus, nothing he has experienced since then has quite compared to them. That doesn’t necessarily suggest or prove, straight up, that the protagonist is unhappy in the present by any stretch. But I do find it telling that he’d use the metaphor of “gasoline” within the second verse, as though he is admitting there’s a sort of vitality which that memory is teeming to the brim with that he has never quite been able to replicate……going so far as to wonder if, perhaps, there’s still time to give it another shot with her. That is, if she still thinks of him.
Does she still fondly regard him? There is slight reason to believe she does, as evinced in the coda, where Church’s propulsive “Whoa whoa, oh oh oh!” softly evokes a call-and-response effect, mimicked by an unknown female voice. Is the voice indeed that of his former lover? Or is it the murmuring of a muse? It could well be interpreted as either.
These emotionally ambiguous nuances, and the burst-of-sunlight-piercing-through-the-clouds production, are what elevate what could otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers ode to young love to a whole other level. You can practically imagine Church standing there outside her house on a Saturday night, holding onto the faintest hope she’s been watching him too as she’s dressed up in blue……….praying she’ll say yes to another dance. And you’re rooting for a happy ending, yet also feel a chill going up your spine fearing his effort will be met in vain: finding his star-crossed self pacing one step forward, two steps back.
“Springsteen” is a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening. As Church’s best single to date, it will all but certainly take his career to the next level, even as he’s already selling out venues left and right at the dawn of his “Blood, Sweat & Beers” tour as we speak.
Come on, Eric. There’s no foolin’ us that you’re any more tougher than the rest of us, behind that brilliant discount shaded disguise. Lift them up from over your eyes and show us your tears. Atta boy, Chief!
Written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, and Ryan Tyndell
Smarter and more incisive than nearly everything else in heavy rotation back in the day.
McGraw plays his cards so close to his chest that upon first listen, you may only pick up on his unconditional love and selflessness toward the girl who’s been stringing him along for all these years.
But repeated plays bring more emotions to the surface, as his phrasing and delivery reveal a bit of contempt and a bit more resigned disbelief at her remarkable obliviousness of her own callous selfishness.
He may be willing to to anything just to see her smile, but the listeners would love to see that smile disappear.