Just last summer, Kenny Chesney was feeling “like a rock star” with a brand new hit album and an amped-up lead single. Though he originally had no plans to release new material so soon after his 2012 Gold-certified album, Welcome To The Fishbowl, a batch of songs Kenny penned over the past several years began to take shape as something more than just a personal labor of love.
Life On A Rock, Kenny’s 14th studio album due in stores April 30, is an introspective, songwriter’s record destined to take more than a few fans by surprise. Though the chunky power chords of the lead single, “Pirate Flag,” will sound familiar, the windswept lyrics hinting at escape are just the beginning of an incredibly personal journey that charts a different course.
Working again with longtime producer Buddy Cannon, Kenny strips away the distortion and discards most any evidence of a country anthem over 10 mostly acoustic songs. The rhythmic title track features a few electric guitars through the chorus, but really, the percussive acoustic verse and soft bongos play a bigger role here in a song enjoying the times when the cell phone is left in the room.
Kenny wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s songs, many of which offer poignant moments where the 45-year-old singer takes time to reflect on relationships and life. The John Mellencamp-influenced chords of “When I See This Bar” lead into a vivid portrait of the sights and sounds of good times and bar band roots. Through crystal clear notes and warm harmonies, Kenny rolls easily through revolving melodies on “Lindy,” a sentimental sketch of a homeless man he calls the “salt of the earth.” He plays piano at the church when nobody’s watching, he sings with empathy. And perhaps the album’s best song, the powerful closer, “Happy On The Hey Now (A Song For Kristi),” contemplates the memory of someone lost too early with a beautifully touching tribute. The sound of waves lead in and out of the song as the ocean and island life play an even larger part on this record than his others.
The gentle “Marley” sings of the deeper messages in the reggae legend Bob Marley’s words and the peaceful feeling his music evokes with a sound like a thoughtful night spent near the shore. “Spread The Love,” written with and featuring The Wailers and their current singer Elan, is a straight up reggae tune with keys that strike the backbeat while Kenny implores others to leave all our problems behind and spread the love. And on an excellent duet, Willie Nelson joins on the playful, “Cocunut Tree,” a simple song about simple pleasures full of catchy hooks and wonderful vocal interplay.
Laid-back melodies often match the album’s soothing grooves. Kenny’s most dynamic vocal performance, however, comes on the old school, jazz inspired “Must Be Something I Missed,” which provides some of the project’s darker themes. I don’t call it living, I just exist, he sings with a touch of pain lurking under the surface. Yet, these feelings are the anomaly as most of the album takes a warm look at life, as heard on “It’s That Time Of Day.” What a wonderful time we’ve all shared my friends, he offers sincerely over soft guitars and light steel drums. Kenny shares a wonderful time with his listeners as well on Life On A Rock, slowing it down to ponder the course he’s traveled and to reflect on what it means at this point in his career.
Key Tracks – “Happy On The Hey Now (A Song For Kristi),” “It’s That Time Of Day,” “Lindy,” “Must Be Something I Missed”