I’m no psychology major, but I’ll go out on a limb anyway: Kenny Chesney has multiple personality disorder. Since 1994’s “In My Wildest Dreams,” Chesney has been heating up the country charts as both a good ol’ boy balladeer (“How Forever Feels”) and a party-loving ne’er-do-well (“When the Sun Goes Down”).
With his latest album, “Lucky Old Sun,” Chesney again succeeds in playing both of these seemingly disparate parts.
His softer side is on display with the warm, melodic “Down the Road,” in which Chesney worries if a potential suitor, “makes enough to take [his] daughter.” And on “I’m Alive,” Chesney plays a countrified Jack Johnson (“breathing in and out’s a blessing, can’t you see?”) with laid-back, ear-pleasing results.
In fact, with three-quarters of the songs decidedly sentimental and down-tempo “Lucky Old Sun” may be 40-year-old Chesney’s most mellow album to date. A Kenny G-inspired saxophone solo on “Way Down Here” further cements the transition into easy listening.
But don’t start calling him “Kenny C” just yet.
After all, the album’s chart-topping first single, “Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven,” is a rollicking slice of Jimmy Buffet beach-rock replete with steel drum. Then there’s the Willie Nelson cover “Ten with a Two,” in which Chesney drinks, “booze as if it was going out of style,” and laments, “I ain’t never gone to bed with an ugly woman / but I sure woke up with a few.”
According to Chesney, the album was inspired by a recording session with Nelson and, fittingly, the outlaw country elder statesman shows up for a duet on the title track.
But the collaboration only serves to show that Chesney’s smooth and pleasant, but ultimately unremarkable, voice lacks the presence of his idol. Chesney can bounce back and forth between caring father and a fun-loving boozehound all he wants, but Nelson proves that it’s the quality of personality that matters (not the quantity) by instilling more charisma into one quirky, quavering note than Mr. Chesney puts into the whole album.
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem for “Lucky Old Sun” if it didn’t lean so heavily on Kenny’s charm. The lyrics and arrangements both deal primarily in tired country clichés while synthetic, overbearing production detracts from the album’s lo-fi vibe.
In other words, “Lucky Old Sun” is about as exciting and unpredictable as your mom’s meatloaf. But like that meatloaf, there’s something familiar, comfortable and downright enjoyable about these home-cooked tunes.
Most importantly, there’s no doubt that Kenny Chesney is having a good time on “Lucky Old Sun.” Until that changes, we’ll have a good time listening to him.
Staff writer Nick Scheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.