Kenny Chesney: The Billboard Cover Story

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST

As bright as that spotlight is, Chesney also enjoys robust sales as a recording act. The BNA artist has moved almost 25 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with six albums topping 1 million in sales. His most recent release, "Greatest Hits II" in 2009, scanned 690,000 units, and his most recent studio album, 2008's "Lucky Old Sun," scanned 800,000. In 2006, "Poets & Pirates" moved 1.6 million, according to SoundScan. He's charted 17 No. 1s on Hot Country Songs and ruled Top Country Albums nine times.

Chesney says that for the first time in years, he had the time he wanted to devote to an album project. "That's another reason I wanted to take the year off, to creatively give to something when I wasn't giving to anything else," he says. "Balancing touring and recording is hard, and I've done that the last seven or eight years, the last three or four records. I didn't want to do that with this record."

Unlike some studio efforts, "Hemingway's Whiskey" wasn't made "on a treadmill," Chesney says. "I didn't make this record in the middle of being home on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and I wasn't in the studio thinking about where I had to fly to Thursday, Friday and Saturday night," he says. "I had time to focus more on music as a whole, the songs, the production. Me and [producer] Buddy [Cannon] had more time to talk, about what this song means and why, and where it would fit in the record. We didn't just go in there and have a chart and do the intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/out. You hear those records every day. I didn't want to make that record."

Chesney admits he has made "that record" in the past. "It's tough when you're tired and busy,' he says. "I wanted to make this record with a clear head, where I wasn't being pulled in other directions."

"Hemingway's Whiskey," co-produced by Chesney and longtime studio collaborator Cannon, does go in many directions. The album boasts songs sure to please longtime fans in "Live a Little (Love a Lot)," "Coastal' and the sentimental ballads "The Boys of Fall" and "Where I Grew Up." But it also challenges fans and Chesney alike with cuts like the regretful, mostly acoustic "You and Tequila" (with