Album Review: Kenny Chesney Mixes Country Salvation With a Good Time on ‘The Big Revival’
Like Jimmy Buffett in a cowboy hat, Kenny Chesney keeps assuring us there's virtually no problem that a cold beer on a tropical island won't set right. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems isn’t just the title of his 2002 multimillion-selling album -- it's Chesney's motto.
He began bringing the beach to landlocked flyover states more than 20 years ago, long before today's bros could legally drive a pickup or the Zac Brown Band dipped its toes in the water. He sells a lifestyle that, if not downright hedonistic, celebrates making the most of every moment. Chesney returns to that sentiment again and again on his 15th studio album, The Big Revival. He's referring to life, not liquor, on "Drink It Up," while "Beer Can Chicken" isn't a recipe -- it's a reminder to embrace the "little things that make life worth living."
Chesney bookends The Big Revival with two stories about entertainers preaching their own gospel. The stomping opening title track tells of a mountainside tent meeting led by a Pentecostal minister ("Praise the Lord and pass me a copperhead"). But the Word is much more personal on the album's closer, "If This Bus Could Talk." One of a handful of tracks that Chesney co-wrote, the song chronicles the artist's career on the road. "Twenty years of summers, and I hope it never ends," he sings, looking back on a travelogue of hopes, heartaches and high points. It's an intimate, sentimental love letter to all his fans -- even those who haven't been on the journey since that first night in 1993 when Chesney opened for Patty Loveless.
Chesney is a gifted entertainer, but his greatest talent may be his ability to make his music sound easy and effortless. He delivers songs with a practiced casualness that never veers into sloppiness. At times, it's almost too easy to miss the homespun messages he espouses on tracks like "Don't It," a song about how life controls you, not the other way around. And the chugging lead single, "American Kids" -- Chesney's first No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart since "Come Over" in August 2012 -- captures the zeitgeist of American youth in a way that John Mellencamp once owned.
Chesney isn't as contemplative here as he was on 2010's stellar Hemingway's Whiskey -- and, sadly, his new duet with Grace Potter, "Wild Child," is no match for their Grammy Award-nominated 2011 hit, "You and Tequila" (which reached No. 3 on the Hot Country Songs chart). But he's far from coasting. At 46, Chesney knows exactly what works for him, and The Big Revival serves his faithful flock a generous helping of country salvation with all the breeziness of a long holiday weekend.
This article first appeared in the Sept. 27th issue of Billboard.