By now, Kenny Chesney fans pretty much know what to expect from him. With each new album comes songs with a nostalgic look back, party tunes sure to rile up the live audience, a tale or two about love gone awry, and a salute to the beach in one form or another.
The tunes on “Hemingway”s Whiskey,” out Sept. 28, all tick off the check list, but along with the usual fare, Chesney hits some career high notes, primarily with the exquisite “You and Tequila,” featuring Grace Potter of the Nocturnals. The gorgeous, wistful duet written by Deana Carter and Matraca Berg, deals with wrestling your demons. “You and Tequila make me crazy/run like poison in my blood/One more night could kill me/One is one too many/One more is never enough,” they sing, gently and sadly, resigned to their fate. It flows from the same open vein, although not as heartbreakingly, as the incomparable “Whiskey Lullaby” from Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss (written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall).
Speaking of whiskey, the title track, Guy Clark”s salute to drinking and the great American author, misses Clark”s lived-in, gruff vocal heft, but Chesney”s sheer affection for the song helps him pull it off.
First single, “The Boys of Fall” (Chesney”s 31st Top 5 country single) takes Chesney back to the nostalgia of his high school football days. It”s also the title to Chesney”s documentary about high school football that”s airing on ESPN. Think “Friday Night Lights” set to music. Chesney does nostalgia well (as evidenced on “I Go Back” or “Young”) and also sets the way back machine with “Where I Grew Up,” which chronicles important passages in our lives that mark time more effectively than birthdays ever can.
Chesney joins with one of his musical heroes, George Jones, on “Small Y”all,” a Bobby Braddock tune the Possum cut years ago (and Randy Travis before him) that uses the same name-rhyming device as Paul Simon”s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” It”s a novelty song, but it”s a blast to hear the two duet and to hear Chesney cut something so traditionally country.
There”s some filler here: “Coastal,” about the Redneck Riviera, and “Reality,” which sounds like watered-down Brad Paisley, is clearly meant for a live audience rather than the album-listening one.
Chesney long ago mastered the art of sounding strong, yet effortless when he sings and he has it down to an art here. The song material seems a little more grown-up and contemplative than he”s tackled in the past, yet he”s still offering listeners of all ages a respite from the day”s troubles. Crack open a beer– or perhaps, in this case, pour yourself a whiskey or shot of tequila– and crank it up.