- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Kenny Chesney

When the Sun Goes Down

BNA Records

The Jimmy Buffett touring machine rolls on unabated, but whippersnapper Kenny Chesney, he of the tank-top physique and perpetual tan, croons so much of margarita-filled yesterdays that he sounds as if he means to stumble out of the tiki bar with Mr. Buffett’s fan base hanging all over him.

Mr. Chesney’s 2002 smash, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem,” cast him as a dual threat, a hunky heartthrob for the cowgirls who can spin endless hangover yarns for the fellas.

The singer’s latest, “When the Sun Goes Down,” mixes calculated trips down memory lane with a few surprisingly grounded lyrics. This beach bum just might have a big ol’ heart beating beneath that pinup exterior.

Take “There Goes My Life,” the opening track and first single. Mr. Chesney sings in that buttery tenor of a man kissing his life away after he impregnates his girl. Flash forward a year or three, and, predictably, that “mistake” is the light of his life. Cloying? Sure, but tell that to the lump in your throat.

“I Go Back” is a bald attempt to craft that special song of which the lyrics speak, a ditty that indelibly marks a more innocent point in our lives. Craggy-voiced guest artist Uncle Kracker teams with Mr. Chesney to find some depth in the deceptively breezy calypso of the disc’s title track.

Beyond commiseration about hangovers and wistful remembrance of coastal shores, the new album also tackles a fair number of Big Issues. “Some People Change” takes on racism and alcoholism with too few emotional shades. And no singer should have the chutzpah to produce “When I Think About Leaving,” a talky track aimed squarely at his female admirers.

The album’s best song title, “Being Drunk’s a Lot Like Loving You,” isn’t the boozy cliche you might expect. The song swells from a gentle piano introduction into a full-throttled weeper.

The Tennessee native wrote or co-wrote four of the 11 tracks here, and it’s clear he did some serious pondering while bouncing around on his tour bus.

“When the Sun Goes Down” won’t revolutionize country music or cast Mr. Chesney as anything but a crowd-pleasing populist. It might, however, spur Mr. Buffett to crank out a few extra push-ups in preparation for his summer ‘04 tour.

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