Big Kenny, "The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy"

70 Billboard Rating

In many ways, Big Kenny and John Rich-who make up country duo Big & Rich-are the perfect couple. But Big Kenny's new album, "The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy," is a thoughtful, often profound sojourn into musical independence-his former major label reportedly rejected every solo project he turned in. That frustration led to the defiant "Free Like Me," which warns, "Don't fit me inside your expectations/You'll never know everything I can be." Big Kenny's musical kinship with Rich is evident on "Wake Up," in which the singer demonstrates moving poetry and surprisingly head-turning lead vocals. The lead single, "Long After I'm Gone," is a midtempo stop-and-smell-the-roses anthem, while "To Find a Heart" may well be the album's sleeper hit. Sonically, "Farm Boy" puts the artist's influences on intriguing display (he cites Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, the Beatles, Queen, Bob Marley and Bill Withers, among others), yet manages the often elusive feat of a cohesive, articulate and entertaining experience from first note to last. --Wade Jessen