I don't know about anyone else, but I am pleased to find that Kenny Chesney has come back to the mainland. As I mentioned to Zach on the phone last night, Kenny's new record, Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, is a return to form for the country singer. Not that his previous several records have been all that bad, but his beach-bumming, sail-boating, Jimmy-Buffeting have worn a little thin and become a bit tedious for my tastes. Poets & Pirates includes far more variety, both musically and lyrically, than Kenny has delivered for a number of years now. Okay, I guess The Road and the Radio (2005) was already a step in the right direction, but now we're really getting somewhere. At any rate, that's how it seems to me.
In commenting on Brooks & Dunn the other day, I suggested that the best and most durable country acts tend to be married with children, and those who aren't stand out as unusual. Well, Kenny Chesney is one of those notable exceptions, and I sense that he is feeling that, too. He had that brief but well-publicized marriage to Renee Zellwegger, but he doesn't have a home and family. Although he doesn't write his own songs, his selection and performance of those he chooses to sing and record are revealing. He's back to singing about the nostalgic good ol' days, as he often has, and he'd have us believe that he still enjoys the freedom to live the wild life and get a little crazy. Those songs are fine, but I don't find them terribly convincing. Kenny's ideal of happiness has always been marrying his high school sweetheart and having children. He says as much, straight up, in the song, "Wife and Kids," which sounds like it comes from the heart. It's the life he dreams about, but he's not living it.
The best songs on Poets & Pirates, which certainly include "Wife and Kids," are songs that take a serious and sober look at transient life. "Shiftwork" (a duet with George Strait) and "Wild Ride" (featuring the great Joe Walsh on some truly funky guitar work) are great fun and very cool. There's no doubt that Kenny knows how to kick back, relax, and have a good time. Then again, what else is he going to do with himself? I expect he can't help but look at his buddy, Tim McGraw, with his beautiful wife and adorable children, and feel more than a twinge of envy and regret. Financial prosperity and popular success really don't provide the genuine happiness and satisfaction of a family and a home where the heart is. Kenny's high school sweetheart married someone else, evidently, and now he's got nothing but time on his hands, sand between his toes, and one more round of rum or whatever, until he wakes up with some girl he doesn't even know.
"Don't Blink" is a poignant song about an old man reflecting on his very full life and how fast it has gone by. It may be my favorite, but it hits me pretty close to home these days, as time flies by and my "babies" are all growing up. But I wonder how much harder it must be for someone like Kenny Cheseny, who sees the days coming and going without anyone to grow old with, and without any children or grandchildren. In "Just Not Today," he'd like to put off "growing up," but who is he kdding? That plays alright when you're in high school or college, maybe, but not so well anymore when you're in your 30s (or whatever he is these days). No, I think you hear the melancholy blues that rattle around in Kenny's heart and mind when he sings "Better as a Memory," or "Demons." Does the possibly serious romance in "Scare Me" really scare him as much as the prospect of having no serious romance? Is there not a hint of admiration and longing when he sings about a single mom who's "Dancin' for the Groceries," because at least she's working for her children and her future? The "sad" songs on this record are the better and stronger ones, but they do make me feel sorry for Kenny. I wouldn't trade my family for all his money, fame and Island-hopping freedom, not in a heartbeat.