Kenny Chesney, "The Road and the Radio" (BNA)
Kenny Chesney, country music's reigning entertainer of the year, tips his Stetson to the guiding lights of his career in the title of his latest album, "The Road and the Radio." Musically, however, he's stretching beyond the island rhythms and party anthems of his past by showing a restless ambition that suggests he's not done growing yet as an artist.
Always a savvy singles artist, Chesney of late has approached each album as a conceptual project. This one wistfully examines the complex emotions that come with living out one's dreams. The album-opening title cut and the closing "Like Me" both describe the life of a traveling entertainer as both salvation and curse; both songs suggest that reaching one's goals doesn't necessarily erase life's problems.
Those looking for signs of reflection on the end of his brief marriage to actress Renee Zellweger will find them in "Beer in Mexico," which finds a guy downing cold ones while reflecting on whether he'll ever find true love. They'll also find it in the line "happiness is a destination that's hard to find, it'll take some time" from the title cut.
Chesney still cranks the guitars on upbeat sing-a-longs like "Living in Fast Forward" and "Summertime," and he still falls back on sentimental fare like the hit single "Who You'd Be Today" and the rural living tribute "In a Small Town."
But Chesney excels at stretching Nashville's formulas just enough to move country music forward without pushing the envelope beyond what radio will accept. From the modern electronics in the album's intro to the way the guitars are more in-your-face than usual, Chesney proves he's willing to test his limits. Country music will be better for it.