Kenny Chesney


Interviews

Chesney Takes "Anything but Mine" to No. 1

By: Craig Shelburne

In the liner notes to his album When the Sun Goes Down, Kenny Chesney writes that "Anything but Mine" reminds him of a spring break fling in Daytona Beach as a college sophomore. He doesn't know where that sorority girl is now, but the song
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can easily be found at the top spot on the Billboard country singles chart.

It's the third No. 1 from the album, but expect to hear "Keg in the Closet," another single from the project, on the radio in the next few weeks.

Chesney knocks Craig Morgan's "That's What I Love About Sunday" to No. 2. Brooks & Dunn's "It's Getting Better All the Time" and Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" remain in third and fourth place, while Jo Dee Messina's "My Give a Damn's Busted," inches one spot to No. 5. Sugarland's "Baby Girl" descends to No. 6, ahead of Gretchen Wilson's "Homewrecker" at No. 7 and Andy Griggs' "If Heaven" at No. 8. Toby Keith's "Honkytonk U" and Joe Nichols' "What's a Guy Gotta Do" enter the Top 10 at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

Jason Aldean, a newcomer on independent label Broken Bow, earns the week's highest debut as "Hicktown" arrives at No. 55. Other new singles include Blue County's "That Summer Song" at No. 56, Rebecca Lynn Howard's "No One'll Ever Love Me" at No. 58 and Shooter Jennings' "4th of July" at No. 59. The latter features George Jones singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today." After four weeks on the chart, peaking at No. 48, Cowboy Troy's "I Play Chicken With the Train" appears to have lost steam to arrive at No. 60.

Blue-collar comedian Larry the Cable Guy entered last week's country albums chart at No. 1 with The Right to Bare Arms. He continues his grip on the chart this week, too, with Rascal Flatts' Feels Like Today and Wilson's Here For the Party holding steady at No. 2 and No. 3. Shania Twain's Greatest Hits lands at No. 4, ahead of Chesney's Be As You Are: Songs From an Old Blue Chair at No. 5, McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying at No. 6, the all-star project Totally Country Vol. 4 at No. 7, Chesney's When the Sun Goes Down at No. 8 and Keith Urban's Be Here at No. 9. Meanwhile, Sugarland's debut Twice the Speed of Life rounds out the Top 10, marking the Atlanta trio's first appearance there.

Chesney Celebrates Birthday at Minnesota Concert

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Even though Kenny Chesney's torn ligaments in his right ankle delayed the start of his Somewhere in the Sun tour by two weeks, he was clearly at full strength during show No. 4 on Saturday night (March 26) at the sold-out Xcel
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Energy Center.

He arrived like a king, sitting on a swing, flying over the crowd from the back of the arena to the stage. ("I felt like I was in the Matrix movie," he told CMT.com after the show.) Onstage, Chesney ran around with abandon and danced like a boot-scootin' fool for 1¾ hours.

"Once I hear the crowd, and the adrenaline starts, I don't think about my ankle," he said in an interview, adding that he has his ankle taped like a football player. "It's a little tender here and there, but it's doing good."

The adrenaline was in extra supply Saturday because it was his birthday. Before he injured his ankle while carrying luggage -- in his flip-flops -- down the steps of his Caribbean home, he had expected to spend his big day at a party at his grandma's in east Tennessee with other relatives, some of whom have birthdays at the same time of year. "They're having a party -- minus one," he said before going onstage.

Not that Chesney was complaining. He had a party with 17,429 wild revelers in St. Paul and "my best friends in the whole world" -- four of his high school buddies -- as well as opening acts Uncle Kracker and Gretchen Wilson. The fans were clearly there for the party, wearing silly pointed hats and holding homemade signs, including one misspelled one -- "HAPPY 37 BIRTHDAY KENNEY" -- that stretched across an entire row.

"Kiss me, it's my birthday," begged the sign of one woman, who was standing in the pit created by the giant T-shaped runway. "It's my birthday, too," Chesney pointed out before planting a kiss on the woman's forehead.

Wearing a Sammy Hagar "Birthday Bash 2004" sleeveless T-shirt, Chesney started the concert in overdrive with "Keg in the Closet" and didn't downshift until his fifth number, "Woman With You." During the 23-song set, the emphasis was on the high-energy side of his repertoire ("Big Star," "Young," "She's Got It All," Conway Twitty's "Love to Lay You Down"). During "Back Where I Come From," he showed videos of his hometown, Luttrell, Tenn., and then footage of landmarks of St. Paul and Minneapolis, including the Mall of America, First Avenue (the nightclub Prince made famous in Purple Rain) and the familiar house from Mary Tyler Moore's 1970s TV series.

Chesney went solo acoustic, singing "Old Blue Chair" while sitting in that weathered rocker he had shipped from his house in the British Virgin Islands. (The chair has its own traveling road case built especially for the tour.). His other noteworthy prop represented the other extreme -- 5-foot tall Marshall guitar amps stacked on top of each other.

To be sure, Chesney rocked, with as many as five guitarists sharing the stage on a couple of tunes. As he has done on past tours, he covered a John Mellencamp hit. After thrilling the high-spirited crowd with the opening chorus to "Hurts So Good," he introduced Gretchen Wilson. As she took a bow, the band stopped, and then she suddenly eased into "Happy Birthday" a la Marilyn Monroe cooing to President John F. Kennedy.

"Happy birthday, Mr. Chesney," she purred and then handed him an industrial-sized tropical drink. They each took a big, long gulp -- and then finished "Hurts So Good" but not the big gulp. Light green with lots of ice cubes in a long-stem container, the celebrative cocktail looked as if it could be a margarita or a daiquiri. "I'm not sure myself," Chesney said later, "but it was good."

Some of Chesney's sidemen got a gulp as did Uncle Kracker, who joined the headliner for "When the Sun Goes Down" and Kid Rock's "Cowboy." (Yes, the CMA's reigning entertainer of the year can rap). The birthday boy dragged his four pals in chinos and dress shirts to the stage for Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," and before you could say "sha-la-la," the birthday bash had turned into a frat party singalong.

Except for "Old Blue Chair," Chesney didn't do any songs from his latest album, the chart-topping Be As You Are: Songs From an Old Blue Chair. He ended the evening with a rollicking, fall-to-his-knees rendition of "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," signed several autographs from the stage and then picked up that special birthday libation and toasted the crowd.

Like Chesney, Wilson, that brown-eyed, redneck woman, blurred the lines between rock and country during her opening set. She moved from a medley of Heart's "Straight On" and Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" to her own "Redneck Woman" and "Here for the Party." Uncle Kracker also resurrected some rock oldies, Dr. Hook's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" and Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," which Kracker remade into a hit a couple of years ago. And his own hit, "Follow Me," with its references to island music and AC/DC, was a big crowd-pleaser.

After the concert, the birthday boy was flying high.

"We had so much fun tonight," Chesney gushed in an interview. "I told the guys that's the most fun we've had in four or five years. It was 'anything goes' -- and anything did go. No matter what road we took, the audience took it and then went along."

Jon Bream

Be As You Are: Songs From An Old Blue Chair

This was supposed to be a low-key do-nothing album of general leisure that Kenny Chesney did for a lark because he’s been touring for years, and he’s as tired as any man can be. So he goes down to the Caribbean with a guitar, records a few tracks, sends them up north, and the record labels says "why not?" and presses a few copies. It does well and everyone becomes happy.

At least that’s the story—and it would be true, if it wasn't for the videos, television advertisements, his appearances on country music television, and a new website with exclusive video commentaries on each of the songs. Then again, country adapts personae as readily as any other genre, and Chesney's success has increased exponentially. So why not sell the good ol' boy image with the melancholy nostalgia, cracker-joking, frat-boy erotica, and beach bum recreation that are already found in spades on his other CDs?

The first (and the last) song makes it plain from the get-go. “Old Blue Chair” is the story of a real chair somewhere on a real beach, made of real wicker. He mentions this fact several times—the chair of the song is a metonymy of Chesney's larger concerns, he has "read a lot of books, wrote a few songs," "looked at his life and where he’s gone," and all of this thinking and touring, all of this musicianship has destroyed his joy of life. The only thing that restores it is a beach chair where he fishes, tans, watches boats, recovers from a lover, and prays. It even kept him safe after he passed out drunk one night. All of his life is reduced to this chair and this beach. It's a lovely song, but it's essentially another prayer of nostalgia—an emotion that all but dominates Chesney's work.

What continues from the chair are lullabies of self-realization and happiness soaked with booze and joy. “Be As You Are,” keeps all of the clichés of middle American tropical vacations (Pina Colodas, hammocks) and would be borderline offensive if it wasn't for the music, with the glistening steel drums, understated harmonicas, fretless bass, and a heartbreaking coda of lalalas—the last few seconds, where Chesney goes all onomatopoeic makes me think that he should fire his writers and just sing syllables.

This is confirmed by the silly “Guitars and Tiki Bars.” The same island clichés (mangoes and Marley) are delivered in a similar stoner's drawl, but there is a laconic calypso sway, suggesting that he has actually spent time on the islands. If you can avoid thinking about what is being said, you may want to give up working, and move down south (yes: this South is imaginary and yes: there is something to be said about the racist implications of the lazy native in the tropical heat especially when it is being exported by a millionaire white entertainer—but hearing this makes you want to believe in the legend without any colonial baggage.)

There is also the question of money—and by the fourth track the usual country audience who cannot afford these vacations between work and child raising, would begin to resent all this leisure—which is why “Island Boy” seeks to explain how anyone can have this life. From the sheer practicalities of "he saved his money and sold his car" to the seductive "he’s an island boy / Living a life where his stress is the enemy" to becoming a local, wherein he hangs out with his dope smoking friends, and it ends with a pretty girl and a nice house—and happiness.

There are all sorts of musical and lyrical details like this throughout the album, but it doesn’t make all of the songs great—there are a number of genuine clunkers and some smaller disappointments. All of the ambiguity and sexual complexity of his last single seems drained out of “Boston,” but it does have the exact same narrative and most of the same musical cues, while “Something Sexy About The Rain” is filler for Faith Hill or something Shania would make a suggestive video of; the instrumentation dull and lifeless, not quiet and subdued.

And then there’s the country tropic version of Warrant’s "Cherry Pie." This one must have been done intoxicated. That’s because there’s no real reason why Chesney would release a song that mentions coconuts, shaking that thing, a "not too tart and not too sweet" key lime pie that his baby "loves to watch him eat," and ends with an threesome between Kenny, Ginger and Mary-Anne. It’s probably camp, but it’s crucially missing humor or the dirtiness that Chesney, at his best, is most capable (“She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”).

Thankfully, a lovely and content ballad called “Soul of the Sail” eventually saves the day, using the best of Chesney's haunting and well-constructed baritone. It deserves a place in the great sea songs of the past, not in the cheap and easy Jimmy Buffetisms, but something older and more emotionally resonant. It’s followed, and the album closed, by the aforementioned second version of “Old Blue Chairs,” which was field-recorded on a four track at the beach, and sounds almost refreshingly raggedly lo-fi.

If he cut the middle out and made it an EP, Kenny Chesney’s Be As You Are would be a classic. There are undoubtedly songs here that will be on my singles list at the end of the year—I’ve listened to the best tracks a dozen times and they have burrowed into my cerebral cortex. That’s why it’s such a disappointment then, that the filler has to take such a central part of the album.

 


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