- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kenny Chesney

Lucky Old Sun

Despite a few high-profile guest vocal appearances, there’s not much to commend on

“Lucky Old Sun,” Kenny Chesney’s 12th full-length studio album.

The country-crossover artist has crossed over to a genre of near total tedium, with a collection of ballads of unvarying rhythms, inane lyrics and poorly thought-out instrumentation. Even for those who are charmed by Mr. Chesney’s breezy celebrations of the good life, “Lucky Old Sun” may represent a bridge too far into the realm of easy listening.

Mr. Chesney’s obvious role model is the ageless Jimmy Buffett, the bard of the salaryman’s tropical getaway. In particular, Mr. Chesney relishes the skin-deep allusions to Caribbean and Latin American music. The steel drum makes several cameos, clanging out somewhat sullen melody lines.

An ersatz Spanish guitar inexplicably plucks away on “The Life,” an innocently condescending song about a wrinkled, grinning, barefoot character named Jose who sells fish to tourists on Mexico’s Playa del Carmen. The song captures the Chesney mind-set in a nutshell. In it, a stressed-out office worker measures the price of the privilege for which he strives against the simple joys of work, prayer and marriage enjoyed by Jose. As a marketing ploy, it’s an effective bid to lay claim to the Jimmy Buffett mantle, but it has the odd effect of making the listener long for Mr. Buffett’s relative sophistication.

Similarly, “Ten With a Two” is a shot aimed at the fraternity-house demographic and could have some staying power as a late-night “beer goggles” anthem. Without getting into excruciating detail, the song hinges on the refrain, “Last night I came in at two with a 10 but at 10 I woke up with a two.” It’s sung against a brisk, up-tempo guitar riff and an intolerable tinkle of steel drums. Mr. Chesney’s sodden hookup song has a counterpart in the Buffett oeuvre, although Mr. Buffett’s track reflects a more libertine, “no regrets” frame of mind.

Country legend Willie Nelson contributes vocals on a cover of the Louis Armstrong classic “That Lucky Old Sun” and acquits himself admirably. It’s a lilting, gently upbeat tune - a little saccharine, perhaps, but still life-affirming. If it’s a measure of the kind of mood Mr. Chesney was trying to evoke on the album, he might have been advised to leave it off, because its inclusion places the shortcomings of his own song craft in sharp relief.

It’s possible that you have to own a boat or enjoy spring-break getaways on the Gulf of Mexico to fully appreciate Mr. Chesney’s work. However, there are better, more musically adventuresome party-boat soundtracks to be had.

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