After eight years of developing his career the slow and steady way, Kenny Chesney finally seems to be poised on the brink of major stardom. Two factors that may push him up into that rarefied air are

After eight years of developing his career the slow and steady way, Kenny Chesney finally seems to be poised on the brink of major stardom. Two factors that may push him up into that rarefied air are his current headlining tour and his solid new album -- "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" -- due April 23 on BNA Records.

The tour, his first major-venue headlining gig, has been selling out most dates, and the second leg is projected to sell more than 1 million tickets this summer. Chesney has shows scheduled through late July, when he will close out the trek at the Country Thunder USA festival in Twin Lakes, Wis.

Chesney thinks he's "on the verge of something huge. You can see it in my audience." In his eight years on the road, Chesney says he's played every size venue, and he's "now looking out over 10,000 people on any given night. It's a great thing for the band and me to see." Many members of the band have worked with Chesney since the early days of playing clubs. "Not everybody has the opportunity to be great," he says. "We've worked very hard for it."

Chesney says that after two seasons on the George Strait tour and a year touring with Tim McGraw, he knew he was ready to headline. "The fans tell you when you're ready," he says. "I felt it last year on Tim's tour. Our star started to rise big-time."

Butch Waugh, executive VP of BNA parent RCA Label Group, has gone to three of the shows on the current tour and says the audience remains on its feet and "at some points, the crowd is so loud screaming you can't even hear the song."

"No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," Chesney's first studio album in three=and-a-half years, was co-produced by the artist, along with Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. "I've lived a lot in those three-and-a-half years," Chesney says, "and this album reflects the growth I've done as a person. I think people will see me for the first time as an open book."

The album's best track is the planned second single, "The Good Stuff," a touching Craig Wiseman/Jim Collins composition that Chesney says reminded him of Vern Gosdin's classic "Chiseled in Stone." Also noteworthy are the feel-good title track, written by Casey Beathard, and Chesney's cover of Bruce Springsteen's "One Step Up."

Chesney says the latter "has always been one of those songs I thought could be a country record, but I always felt it was untouchable. I've wanted to record it for a number of years, but I felt like people wouldn't take me seriously if I did." He says what has changed is that "I finally feel like I've lived it."

Taken as a whole, the album's songs form a loose theme of maturing and learning life's lessons. Chesney says that was unintentional. "People ask me if there is a theme," he says. "I think there are 12 different themes on this record, but there are four or five songs that are about looking back, reminiscing, and maybe about growing up as a person."

Waugh says "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" has "a bigger, more layered sound" than Chesney's previous work. "Kenny has put so much into this album, and it shows. This will be a career album for Kenny -- I guarantee it."

Chesney is one of the five nominees in the top male vocalist category for the Academy of Country Music Awards, to be held May 22 in Los Angeles.

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