Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Kenny Chesney and American Aquarium

Kenny Chesney – Here and Now (Deluxe Version)

In my review of the original album release, his nineteenth, I called Here and Now Kenny’s best in at least a decade, one which cements the ‘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?’

The four extra tracks build on the formula. Wind On begins with the radio on, shirts off, tattoos on show and ‘every care in the world’ thrown to the wind. It’s Chesney by Numbers, literally a song about nothing with crunching guitars borrowed from songs like Live A Little and American Kids. Check the minute-long guitar jam, though, which makes it fun to be alive.

My Anthem is a Jason Gantt-McAnally-Osborne write is a song about songs that accompany people as ‘salvation…education’. The middle eight is very good, the bridge even better, a typical Shane McAnally device where he puts vinegar in the cakemix. Songs can’t ultimately help people ‘outrun their youth’, but they do make it easier.

Fields of Glory is a Copperman-Gorley-Osborne write, which means even before I hear it I can tell it’ll have smooth acoustic guitars, a list of activities people do on a field – stay out late, play football – and some ‘woah-woah’ backing vocals. Ashley Gorley and Ross Copperman know that people want songs as comfort blankets, reassuring humanity that the past was a nicer place. This is a nice song that adds nothing to anything.

Streets was written with Tom ‘House that Built Me’ Douglas. It’s a series of images, as if Kenny is singing a video montage, that takes us all across America, from Times Square to Disneyland to Hollywood. ‘On the streets of Nashville all is well’ seems to imply that nobody will run out topics to sing about. ‘All is well’ is a ridiculously ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’ thing to write, so I think this is a utopian dream, or even satire, rather than social commentary. Of course all isn’t well in America – Kenny should write about opioid addiction, police brutality or the Capitol insurrection – but the music is so pretty I am willing to ignore the politics for five minutes.

American Aquarium – Slappers, Bangers and Certified Twangers

What links Patty Loveless, Sammy Kershaw, Trisha Yearwood, Joe Diffie, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Jo Dee Messina, Toby Keith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Sawyer Brown? They all had hits in the mid-1990s and BJ Barham aka American Aquarium has bestowed fans with 10 covers of tunes made famous by all of them. There’s no Travis, Tim or Garth but the set does introduce younger fans to these now classics that all emerged in the Soundscan era where America could finally see how popular hillbilly music was.

I am familiar with Heads Carolina, Tails California (moved from E to G and with Springsteen-y undertones by BJ), Should’ve Been A Cowboy (which really does sound like an E Street Band song) and She’s in Love With The Boy, which are all modern classics. Joe Diffie’s John Deere Green is a song ripe for rediscovery, a muscular song that Jon Pardi, Aldean and Combs should cover in concert. As we’re seeing today, the veneration of Brooks & Dunn, whose schtick is virtually Luke’s, shows no stopping and BJ covers Lost and Found.

New tunes to my ears include Queen of my Double Wide Trailer, a Sammy Kershaw hit from 1993 with twang and Hammond organ; Sawyer Brown’s Some Girls Do and Faith Hill’s Wild One could only have been put out in the post-Garth, pre-Shania window, where country was trying to rock but come off as very milquetoast (I love that word!). Mary Chapin Carpenter, as you would expect, gets the balance right with Down at the Twist and Shout, which sounds like a line dance translated into musical notes. At least BJ adds some contemporary production while staying faithful to the era. What a fun surprise release.

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