In this series, I will present the reviews of big albums reviewed weekly as part of Country Jukebox Jury. You can hear me talk about all types of country – poppy, bluegrass, rock, Texan, Canadian and British – every week at Facebook.com/acountrywayoflife
Kenny Chesney – Here And Now
Every time Kenny Chesney releases an album it’s a big event. He seems to follow the David Bowie Rule: One for them, one for me. His last album Songs for the Saints raised funds for the British Virgin Islands and only had one big single, the anthemic Get Along. Here and Now is his 19th album which will be toured as Chillaxification.
In the modern way we’ve heard half of the album: Tip of my Tongue is the filthy Ed Sheeran co-write with one of his famous double choruses; We Do and the title track are a perfect pair to kick off the album; lighter-in-the-air slowies Knowing You (co-written by the great Brett James) and serious album closer Guys Named Captain (a 100% write from James T Slater) are both Sensitive Kenny songs which will join There Goes My Life, The Good Stuff, Don’t Blink and many other Sensitive Kenny songs in his canon.
Everyone She Knows comes from the folks that brought us many big hits: Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Ross Copperman. ‘She’s stuck between 17 and everyone she knows’ is such a McAnally lyric. It’s about how a lady who sees all her friends getting married and having babies while she hangs with the boys. It’ll be a smash hit and sounds brilliant, musically and sonically. Kenny’s vocal is believeable and it’ll be a big live favourite.
Wasted and Beautiful World are both co-written by Kenny’s good friend David Lee Murphy. The former sees Kenny talking to an old-time singer who recalls the good times in bars and cars, living the high life and ‘the rest I just wasted!’ A country song with a punchline! More on that later. Beautiful World is a slow song that becomes another ‘Kenny sitting in a hammock’ song, with new strings on his guitar and the jukebox playing. Sometimes it’s good to ‘feel so small’ and realise you are a drop in the ocean. Kenny has built a strong brand that makes him squillions of dollars, the Don’t Worry Be Happy country guy laughing all the way to the beach. Am I being cynical?
Heartbreakers sounds like a Chesney song from its opening riff. He lists the names of the girls he didn’t get with, a fun look at love. ‘I bet they’re still beautiful!’ You Don’t Get To is a mid-tempo pop song co-written by the great Barry Dean in which Kenny says he’s ‘not the same me but you’re still the same you’.
Someone to Fix is a Jon Nite co-write, which means a tender song with some melancholy and a proper chorus, delivered expertly. Happy Does is a happy-clappy beach song about being grateful for having tattoos, wives, songs on the radio, rope swings, palm trees and drinking beer. It’s almost a pastiche of a Kenny Chesney ‘happy song’ but it’s effective. The album will please long-time fans of Kenny, who is now in his fifties, and the first half is especially strong. His best album in at least a decade. 4/5
Luke Bryan – Born Here Live Here Die Here
Luke Bryan is probably radio’s biggest star of the last decade, with tons of hits and a big wide grin. In fact, he has now had 30 (by my count) on his own or with other acts.
Luke has taken the Blake/Keith approach and put his brand in front of middle America thanks to TV, and a lot more people know Luke Bryan than the country audience whom he was initially marketed to. Remember he used to put out a Spring Break EP and do tours of farms – he’s still the same guy but he now makes tripe that goes to radio. Album seven is out now.
Knockin Boots, What She Wants Tonight and One Margarita are all fun songs about love, sex and drinking. Build Me a Daddy is sentimental gloop that aims its sights on your tearducts. None is anywhere near his Top 10, which would include the likes of Drink A Beer, Do I and Dirt Road Diary.
The title track is a blood brothers song that sounds like lighters in the air. Luke, for all his booty shaking, is to Georgia what Madness are to North London or the Ramones are to New York. Songs like this boost Luke’s localism – I believe him when he sings about boots and roots and local pride, regardless of political allegiance. ‘Same dirt, same church, same beer’ and REAL drums – great job by all concerned, including young writer Jameson Rodgers. His voice is marketable and he sounds like a man who hunts and fishes.
Then it goes into the schlocky One Margarita and the spell is broken.
The musical theme of this album is… middle of the dirt road, a genre I have made up to convey safe, corporate music. That doesn’t mean it’s bad: Too Drunk to Drive is a Luke co-write that chugs along effectively in a fashion; Down To One, which is the only contribution to this album by Luke’s buddy Dallas Davidson, closes the album. It’s terrific and very on brand: ‘We were down to 1am, listening to one more song’ leading to ‘one hand in mine, one beautiful smile’. It’s a country song that rewards listeners for getting to the end of the album, like Dirt Road Diary on Crash My Party.
Where are we Goin, which Luke wrote with top singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, and Little Less Broken are almost Lionel Richie songs – I wonder if Lionel has given him tips on American Idol – although the latter also reminds me of Midland’s contemporary vintage style. For a Boat is also AC country in which Luke declares himself ‘too broke for a boat’ as a kid, spending Sundays with God and Saturdays with Dad. I like the specificity of ‘Evinrude’, which is a type of motor.
Overall this is a fine 4/5 album without many tush-shaking tracks like Move, She’s a Hot One or Country Girl, which are all the same song. Now 44, Luke has definitely moved into the veterans tier of acts that houses Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and Chesney.