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Album Review: Kenny Chesney – Hemingway’s Whiskey



It’s ironic that Kenny Chesney’s most common lyrical theme over the last decade is escapism, when that’s exactly that theme which has him trapped inside his own paradigm of song choice.

Hemingway’s Whiskey is Chesney’s 12th studio album, and over the second half of his career he has made songs about escaping to the beach and to thoughts of the good ole days an almost trademarked lyrical choice.

Oceanside songs like “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem,” “When The Sun Goes Down,” and “Beer In Mexico” have helped make the island life synonymous with the name Chesney, while escaping to the past and songs of reminiscence have filled much of the balance on tunes such as “Who You’d Be Today,” “Don’t Blink,” “I Go Back,” and “Keg in the Closet.”

And there’s no doubting that he’s ridden those themes to great commercial success. A collection of 18 #1 hits is not acquired easily.

For the most part, the songs on Hemingway’s Whiskey pick up right where 2008’s Lucky Old Sun leaves off. “Seven Days,” “Ain’t Ever Going Back,” “Reality,” and the appropriately named “Coastal” fill the bill for the seaside beach quota, while The “Boys of Fall,” “Where I Grew Up” and the bonus song, “I Didn’t Get Here Alone,” are all a rear view mirror looks at days gone past.

It’s the three songs that are exceptions to the rule that stand out the most. The title track is written by Texas legend Guy Clark, and Chesney performs it admirably. The lyrics wax about the similarities between iconic American author (and fellow Key West aficionado) Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice and the challenge of the life of a songwriter. “You know it’s tough out there a good muse is hard to find,” he sings. “Living one word to the next and living one line at a time.””

While Chesney isn’t a proficient songwriter on this particular album—with only one track, “Reality” penned by him—he can borrow Clark’s analogy and apply it to his life as one of country music’s troubadours.

He also has a great duet on an old Randy Travis tune with George Jones on “Small Ya’ll.” It’s a quaint and fun little ditty that borrows its guts from the early 1980’s. “Somewhere With You” is another great tale told about self-destructive behavior set to a great little Dave Matthews Band-like guitar riff and groove.

Chesney’s Hemingway’s Whiskey isn’t a bad album by any means. But we’ve heard it all before, and many times over. This album is interchangeable with nearly any of the others that he’s recorded over the last decade, even through he’s earned a place in his career where he has an opportunity to diversify song topics, production styles and album themes based on any whim he chooses.

Perhaps album number 13 will pull up anchor, steer inland and future forward.

Ken Morton Jr. has a passion for country music and all of the sub-genres underneath that big umbrella. His work has appeared in The 9513, Nashville Scene, Engine 145, Country California, Saving Country Music and his own site, That Nashville Sound. His Golf & Guitars Music Festival held in May each year in Northern California has raised more than $1.2 million for charities benefitting youth, those with disabilities and American military veterans.

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