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Kenny Chesney, ‘Life on a Rock’ – Album Review

Kenny Chesney Life on a Rock
Blue Chair Records/Columbia

Kenny Chesney‘s ‘Life on a Rock’ album is as revealing of a record as ‘Be as You Are’ — more so in some ways. The songwriting isn’t as sharp as the 2005 project (the most closely comparable to ‘Life on a Rock’ in style and substance), but the experiences are as mixed and honest.

The overall sense one gets after spinning through the 10 slow-to-mid-tempo tracks is that when he’s in St. Johns, Chesney is just an average island boy who makes his way through the city streets like any local would. He has a favorite watering hole, bartender (more on her later) and homeless guy. It’s strange and somewhat voyeuristic to think of him in this way. He’s such a private person that this collection of songs written about the people and scenes of his island home end up providing a rare, genuine glimpse into his real world away from Nashville.

An unfortunate side effect is that it’s difficult to wear his songs on ‘Life as a Rock’ on your own in the way one does songs from a great country album. ‘Lindy’ — a calming biography of a local streetwalker who seems to enjoy his homeless state as you would your colonial — doesn’t appear in our daily lives. We don’t all know a “Lindy,” let alone one we admire from afar.

Willie Nelson appears on ‘Coconut Tree,’ but his performance just blends in like the rest of the features on this album. It’s like a great day on vacation, but not the one that produces the best stories. Time just sort of slips away and you’re left remembering the mood, not any tangible highlights.

A few songs drag on like an endless sunset. Four are in the five-minute ballpark, with an extra stanza of ‘When I See This Bar’ touching six minutes. This John Mellencamp-inspired groove is amongst the top three on the album, but it loses some of its allure toward the end. The next song, ‘Spread the Love,’ is difficult to get through. It’s like reggae night at the karaoke bar.

‘Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)’ is probably the most personal song on ‘Life on a Rock.’ It’s the story of a friend of Chesney’s, a woman who by all accounts was capable of lighting up the island if the stars failed to shine. Their relationship appears to be anything but romantic, but there’s no doubt that the singer — like so many — loved this woman. Kristi Hansen died giving birth within the last two years, and Chesney’s ode to his friend makes one wish they’d met her before her life ended.

This album isn’t a good entry point into the Chesney catalog, but for fans it’s a fine glimpse at the man beneath the straw hat. Perhaps the songwriting is clunky at times — and a few songs rely too heavily on his vocal talents instead of a captivating melody or story — but it’s difficult to criticize a project that’s so honest, and at times, vulnerable. ‘Be as You Are’ proved to be a transition album, and one wonders if ‘Life on a Rock’ won’t become something similar.

3 Stars

Next: See Kenny Chesney in His Element - Shirtless

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