Photo courtesy of Think Country
REVIEW: Here and Now by Kenny Chesney (Warner Music Nashville/May 1, 2020)
Kenny Chesney is the leader of the No Shoes Nation, one of the largest and most loyal fan groups in country music. The devoted followers that comprise that club received a gift today, a new album from their king. The new record is called Here and Now, and Chesney, in his own words, described what this project is about:
“I always tell people No Shoes Nation is a country without borders, where everyone’s welcome. With the new album, we’re taking that idea into a whole other dimension.”
A whole other dimension. That’s a lofty description and one that better live up to something big. So, does it? I have to say, I was a little bit afraid. Two singles were already released from the album, “Tip of My Tongue” (Kenny Chesney, Ross Copperman, Ed Sheeran) and “Here and Now” (Craig Wiseman, David Lee Murphy, David Garcia) and although both are what I consider good songs, they didn’t rocket me into any new dimensions. I was imagining quite a bit more if I’m expected to leave this Earthly musical plane. The writers of both singles can’t be denied. They’re all brilliant. The production is top-notch as well, but neither song holds my interest enough to remove me from this dimension in which I sit.
There’s the bad news and it isn’t even that bad. Luckily, better news is on the way. In my opinion, they chose the wrong songs as the first two singles because it’s a 12-track album and almost any one of the other ten would have worked better for me. In a street fight, ten against two would just about guarantee a really bad day for two people. On a record album ten against two means a great day for an artist, and truth be told, “Here and Now” is actually growing on me every time I hear it, I just wouldn’t have picked it as a single. There are ten more songs just waiting to be heard and they’re what makes new music fun to listen to. The kind of songs that don’t take a few listens to like. These fall into that instant, “just add water (or a beer) and you’ve got something delicious” category.
The singles probably deserve a lot more space, but they’ve been talked about already. “Tip of My Tongue” was released in 2019 and has the added star power of Ed Sheeran as a writer and background vocalist. It’s all been done. I can’t add much more to what’s already been said except to say it’s a love song written from the point of view of a guy that’s totally wrapped. “Here and Now” is an upbeat number reminding us that we need to live in the present because it’s all we have. The lyrics sum it up quite nicely:
Video courtesy of Kenny Chesney and YouTube
What I really want to do is give people the lowdown on what they aren’t hearing on the radio at this point. The songs just waiting their turn to hit the “single lottery”. The ones that made me want to listen to this record over and over again.
Let’s start with the very first track on the album, “We Do”. Now, here’s an anthem. “We Do” (Kenny Chesney, Craig Wiseman, Scooter Carusoe, David Garcia) is a huge nod to the No Shoes Nation. This is one I can imagine tens of thousands of Blue Chair Bay Rum drinkin’, happy fans singing along to in an arena. If you just arrived on this planet and never heard a thing about Kenny Chesney or the No Shoes Nation, this is the song that would tell you all you ever needed to know. It drives home the unity of the fan group. It’s lively and it’s all about breaking loose and having fun together. Make this one a single down the road and the No Shoes Nation will likely gain a whole slew of new members.
“To your parking lot parties full of pirates like us, we all come together when the curtain comes up.”
Video (audio) courtesy of Kenny Chesney and YouTube
The next one on my list of “should be singles” is a tale I think we’ve all heard before. Maybe not in a song, maybe not quite this way, but we know it and we know someone that fits the role of lead character. “Everyone She Knows” (Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne) is all about that woman. The one that just hasn’t kept up with her friends in pretty much every department. She hasn’t married, had kids, settled down or done all the things on that invisible female checklist society seems to believe we should all be following. She’s getting older and time isn’t waiting for her either. She no longer gets carded at bars. Is she unhappy? Is she racing to catch up? Should she be? The song is just a smart take on an ageless story. I adore it. Single material all day long.
“She’s a Marilyn in blue jeans with a touch of Jackie O. She’s stuck between seventeen and everyone she knows.”
Did you ever find yourself lamenting your financial situation? Overspent to the point where you’re tossed up between dragging your last stack of old baseball cards or the half-operational lawnmower to the pawn shop? Sometimes even being flat broke isn’t all that bad, at least not if you’re one of the guys in the song “Wasted” (David Lee Murphy, Bobby Hamrick, James Slater). These two characters find themselves chatting it up in a bar, one of them doing so over a beer the band bought him because he’s too broke to buy his own. Are they crying in their brew? No way. They’re talking about blowing a fortune right down to the very last dime and looking back on all the fun they had doing it. In reality, this might not be as great as it sounds in this song, with creditors burning up your phone and all, but remember, we’re off to another dimension. Foreclosures and repossessions are nothing to stress over where we’re going. Just head to the local watering hole, wait for the drummer to buy you a cold one and all’s right with the world. With the way things have been recently, and the way people are struggling with job losses and money worries, this should be the very next single. It’s a no-brainer. It’s nice to escape sometimes.
“I spent it on high livin’, wild women, that roulette wheel that I kept spinnin’. Beachside bars, big shiny cars, long vacations in warm locations. I was goin’ non-stop ’til I squeezed every drop of that good time, top shelf sweet life that I tasted, and to tell you the truth, the rest I just wasted.”
Albums need ballads. Even carefree souls like those in the No Shoes Nation appreciate those heartfelt numbers that Kenny Chesney generally does so well. This record has a few winners, the first being “Knowing You” (Brett James, Adam James, Kat Higgins). The one and only song on the album with steel guitar. What? Country records must employ steel guitar or they aren’t country! Right? Wrong. This one does, however, and it’s just the right touch. A slow, reflective ballad that finds our leading guy wondering where a long-lost love is now and what she’s up to. The catch here is, he thinks he knows. That’s where the title comes in. Years may have gone by, but he’s sure he has her down. Put it on the radio.
“God, we were so alive. I was a kid on a carnival ride, holding my breath ’til the moment when you were gonna leave me too soon, but I’d do it all over ’cause damn, it was good knowing you.”
As much as I can appreciate a decent ballad, I’m always going to be more of an uptempo song person. How is it that a song called “Heartbreakers” (Zach Crowell, JT Harding, Josh Osborne) could possibly be anything but a slow, syrupy love-gone-wrong song? You’ll have to listen to it and see. With a fast, upbeat melody that defies its title, “Heartbreakers” is one of my favorites on the record. Lots of cool guitar work and another theme that’s been around since the beginning of time, but seems to have escaped the songwriting universe until now. The guy sitting around thinking about all the wild girls from his past. The “Heartbreakers”. The ones who broke the rules and tested his young, fragile heart. Where are they now? That’s what this is all about. If it doesn’t shoot you right back to high school and make you think of the girls that all the boys wanted to be with, the ones that seemingly had it all together, get your memory checked. This is a perfect description of that era of my life. No, I’m not a guy and I’m not dwelling on long-gone relationships with girls-gone-wild, but I sure do know which females he’s describing. It’s a fabulous blast to the past seen from a male perspective. Maybe I’ve changed my mind. Make this the next single. It’s too cool for school.
“Whatever happened to the heartbreakers, to the dream chasers, to the renegades running this town? Whatever happened to the born-to-runners, to the ‘let me get your numbers’, did they ever settle down? Did they grow up and get old, do they have someone to hold, I bet they’re still beautiful.”
“Someone to Fix” (Scooter Carusoe, Jon Nite) makes my “wannabe singles” list for its smooth, easy-to-listen to (without being categorized as “easy listening”) style, along with a story that’s been told before, but lyrics that haven’t been written until now. Just another song about a man wondering why a woman would want him. This one is done a lot better than some others and therefore, deserves to be a single.
“How’d you get tangled all up in the careless wreck I am? Broken hearts leave hearts broken, lovin’ me is so hard, I know it. Why you took me on I’ll never understand.”
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my next choice for a single from Here and Now should definitely be another ballad. In case you haven’t yet noticed, I tend to shy away from ballads, but not on this album, it’s just loaded with good ones. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I really enjoy an edgy ballad over a highly-sentimental one, and even though it isn’t a ballad you’d find on a metal record, it’s got a little sting to it and I love that. The song is “You Don’t Get To” (Dustin Christensen, Josh Kerr, Barry Dean) and it ranks as my second-favorite track on the record. Breakups aren’t always amicable. They aren’t always pretty. Sometimes you just don’t have much love left in your heart after one. Without any bloodshed and without any screaming vocals, this one is still mildly searing and leaves a mark. If this is never a single, it’s going down as one of the better deep album cuts in my country music mental file.
“I can’t be the fix for what you’re going through. Maybe I’m not the same me but you’re the same you. So, you don’t get to know what I do with my time. You don’t get to say you ain’t doin’ alright. You don’t get to come around sayin’ that you want me now. You don’t get to show up with that look in your eyes. You don’t get to think that you can take it all back. You don’t get to miss what you said we never had. I don’t have to understand, you don’t get to give a damn after all you put me though, no, you don’t get to.”
Photo courtesy of Think Country
My final pick for a song that should be a single is “Guys Named Captain” (James Slater). This is not only one I think should be a single, it’s also my personal favorite on the entire album. One of the most magnificently crafted songs ever. Lyrically compelling and musically stunning, it’s everything the near-perfect song should be. The combination of guitars, piano, and even accordion, create something relaxing and inspiring at the same time. John Hobbs, who was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019, lends his tremendous talents on piano, B-3 organ, Wurlitzer and synthesizer. This is as close to a masterpiece as I’ve heard in some time as far as new music is concerned. Its meaning, I feel, should be left up to the listener.
“Like Captain Bligh and Captain Kidd, Mutiny on the Bounty, loose cannons in the wind. Buccaneers with nothin’ to fear, they go down with the ship. Last man standing, Guys Named Captain.”
The final two songs on the record include “Happy Does” (Brad Clawson, Jamie Paulin, Brock Berryhill, Greylan James) and “Beautiful World” (David Lee Murphy, Tony Lane, Tom Douglas). Both of these are very well done and deserve a listen.
So, did Kenny Chesney take me, a card-carrying member of the No Shoes Nation, to a whole other dimension with Here and Now or not? As I look around the room I’m sitting in, I can say with some conviction that I’m still right here where I was before I began listening to the record. I’m quite certain I haven’t traveled to any other dimensions, galaxies or worlds, but I was impressed to the point that I can say this is now my very favorite Kenny Chesney album of all-time. That’s a big statement. He’s done a lot of records, many of them outstanding. This one, however, has something that’s different. I’m not able to pinpoint just what that difference is, except to say it has a majority of songs that I will never skip over, thanks to music and lyrics that simply resonate with me, so Here and Now will always be considered one of my most valued country albums. Chesney’s vocals are as good as ever. No Kenny Chesney fan should be without it and every lover of music should give it a chance because you should never judge an album by its singles.
Here and Now Track Listing:
- “We Do” (Kenny Chesney, Craig Wiseman, Scooter Carusoe, David Garcia)
- “Here and Now” (Craig Wiseman, David Lee Murphy, David Garcia)
- “Everyone She Knows (Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne)
- “Wasted” (David Lee Murphy, Bobby Hamrick, James Slater)
- “Knowing You” (Brett James, Adam James, Kat Higgins)
- “Heartbreakers” (Zach Crowell, JT Harding, Josh Osborne)
- “Someone to Fix” (Scooter Carusoe, Jon Nite)
- “Happy Does” (Brad Clawson, Jamie Paulin, Brock Berryhill, Greylan James)
- “Tip of My Tongue” (Kenny Chesney, Ross Copperman, Ed Sheeran)
- “You Don’t Get To” (Dustin Christensen, Josh Kerr, Barry Dean)
- “Beautiful World” (David Lee Murphy, Tony Lane, Tom Douglas)
- “Guys Named Captain” (James Slater
Kenny Chesney Website: https://www.kennychesney.com/home
*Featured image courtesy of Kenny Chesney/Warner Music Nashville