Welcome to the unofficial start of summer. Because with “Life On A Rock,” Kenny Chesney heads out for a day of sun and fun, on an album that sails along on refreshing country breezes, an occasional reggae undertow and cross-currents of wistful memories.
While the feeling’s mostly laid back, Chesney worked to get it that way, writing or co-writing most of the songs to create a more intimate, immediate feel than last year’s “Welcome To The Fishbowl.” That meant a different approach to his songwriting, with many of the tracks for “Life On A Rock” starting with Chesney’s lyrics rather than a tune. Culled from years of travels, he first finessed the words, then searched until he found the right fit musically.
The result is an album that’s as infectious as it is genuine. Lead single “Pirate Flag” has already staked its claim to the Top 10 on the country charts and kick-starts “Life On A Rock” in fine style. Don’t let the anthem fool you, however – it’s the hardest-hitting track on the album. The mood lightens up immediately after, heading towards the islands in tempo and tone.
But this ain’t your daddy’s “Margaritaville.” What starts as a lilting vibe on “When I See This Bar” and continues in the irresistible sing-along chorus of the title track turns into bona fide reggae on “Spread The Love,” featuring The Wailers with Elan. And Bob Marley not only gets name-checked on “Marley” — the steel drums and harmonica also keep the feel real.
Then there’s “Coconut Tree,” Chesney’s lighthearted duet with Willie Nelson. A little bit country, a little bit calypso, the upbeat track features marimba, steel drums and great chemistry between the two artists.
Of course, island life isn’t always about jamming and grooving, so “Life On A Rock” also reflects on what’s been and what could’ve been — from the yearning “Must Be Something I Missed” to the contemplative “Lindy.” But Chesney saves his most affecting moment for last: “Happy On The Hey Now (A Song For Kristi)” is a sweet coda to a departed loved one that powerfully wraps up what could be considered his best collection in years.
So is Chesney going with the relaxed flow and taking the summer off? Hardly. With his No Shoes Nation Tour heating up 19 stadiums across the country, this century’s biggest ticket seller still has work to do. Good thing it’s a labor of love.