Chesney goes by the book on 'Just Who I Am'

CD REVIEW-by Alison Bonaguro

Published September 11, 2007


Strippers are people too. And it's about time they had their own anthem.

At least, that's what Kenny Chesney seems to think. On his new album, "Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates," Chesney salutes the women who take off their clothes to put food on the table. It's called "Dancin' for the Groceries," and despite its offbeat story line, it's darn catchy. Fans who love Chesney's beach-bum country vibe may blush at lyrics such as "she puts on a dress that might feel pretty/if she didn't have to take it off again."

Aside from that deviation, the other 10 tracks are textbook Chesney. The reigning ACM entertainer of the year knows exactly how to piece together a collection that will keep him on top of the charts. A few ballads on counting your blessings, a few uptempo rockers about hard work, a couple big-name guests, and voila.

Album-of-the-year contender.

The second song, "Don't Blink," features Chesney as interpreter for a wise 102-year-old man. Its arrangement is elegant, and its sentiment is earnest.

His advice centers on savoring life from your childhood on up through losing your spouse. Chesney's pensive tone is just what the lyrics need to keep it from sounding preachy when he sings "Trust me, friend, a hundred years goes faster than you think/So don't blink."

On "Shift Work," a duet with George Strait, the calypso percussion gives this workin' man tribute an island beat. Good thing; otherwise it might be a downer of a tune about the drudgery of working 7 to 3, 3 to 11 or 11 to 7. Strait's vocals are too similar to Chesney's to distinguish the two, so Chesney should have tackled this one alone. The better collaborator for Chesney is Joe Walsh, who joins him on Dwight Yoakam's hard, fast and guitar-heavy "Wild Ride."

Best, by far, is "Better as a Memory." The album title is pulled from a line in this meditative message from a restless drifter, about how "my only friends are pirates, it's just who I am." Chesney has the pipes to make letting go sound as tough as staying put. And the hook, about being "better as a memory than as your man," one-ups just about every breakup song on country radio.

---------- ctc-tempo@tribune.com

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