The platinum-seller’s latest LP is a perfect slice of contemporary country.
David Quantick 2010-11-10
Country music may well be descended from folk music and the traditional styles of the UK, but in the past half-century or so it’s strayed so far from those roots that it’s become little more than a chunky kind of pop made by people in very clean hats.
But this isn’t the reason why it’s enormous in the USA and almost a commercial non-entity everywhere else. That may be because country is the most American form of music of all – which, for a nation that also invented jazz, hip hop, rockabilly, soul, disco and house, is really saying something. Modern country’s themes are also very far from the idiocy of pop and the bravado of rock. It deals with relationships gone wrong, the importance of family, pride in one’s upbringing and – perhaps most grown-up of all – the general sadness of adult life in general. No wonder indie kids don’t like it. And no wonder this new album from Kenny Chesney will sell like dead horses in the UK but enjoy immense success in America.
Kenny Chesney is a very big country star in his homeland, where his breezy style and hits like You Had Me from Hello fit the C’n’W radio mainstream snugly. Several of his albums have reached multi-platinum status. But the likelihood is that fans of both alt-country and old country won’t enjoy Chesney’s music, which is anthemic, guitar-heavy and often maudlin. But he is something of an epitome of modern country – melodic, truthful, and very real of working-class American culture. Chesney wears these contemporary traits exceptionally well.
There’s a pleasing melancholy to the stateside hit single The Boys of Fall, a hymn to high school football that Radiohead are unlikely to ever attempt, while Small Y’all – a duet with the legendary George Jones – has a bounce traceable right back to the days of Western swing. A second duet with Grace Porter, You and Tequila, has a pleasantly lazy feel, while the title-track seems to have strayed over the border from Mexico.
This is intelligent, agreeable, highly tuneful and engagingly thoughtful. You can keep your bearded lads pretending to be The Band, because by today’s country standards this is the real thing.