Kenny Chesney has covered a lot of ground – and he believes he’s got a lot more ground to go. The platinum plus Just Who I am, has already yielded two number one singles with “Never Wanted Nothing More,” and “Don’t Blink.” The current single, “Shiftwork,” is a duet with pal George Strait and is Top 5 and climbing. Chesney, the triple and reigning Academy of Country Music and four time Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year sold more tickets in North America than anyone last year, played football stadiums and sang the songs that capture the way people live their lives, dream their dreams and feel the moments that define them.
“I’ve been through a lot …” says the Luttrell, Tennessean with the philosophical calm of a pilgrim who knows the very best music comes from the accrual of one’s experiences. “I’ve lived a lot, tasted a lot. I’ve laughed a lot, hurt a lot, looked for answers, found more questions, had some moments to remember – and I think all that comes through when I open my mouth and sing.”
Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates is in many ways Chesney’s most intimate album to date. Still marked by the high jinks and good-time revelry he’s known for – the tropical feeling morning-after introduction of “Got a Little Crazy,” the shimmering, wide-open embrace of being young and free of “Just Not Today” – but the musical synthesis and emotional openness could’ve only come from a life lived in, around, making and loving music.
“Some of the songs on this record are the kind that made me want to move to Nashville in the first place,” says the man who got his start as a staff songwriter at the legendary Acuff-Rose, once Hank Williams’ publisher. “I was looking for more … Given the pace, it would’ve been easy to make the same record, but everything in my world’s gone through such intensity, I wanted to show that.”
There is a moment in every superstar’s career when their fame is undeniable. That is the moment when they either make a decision to stay grounded in where they come from or the centrifugal force of the success hurls them into a place so far removed from the rest of us, they’re impossible to relate to.
Kenny Chesney, who lived for playing Friday night football, raised by a beauty shop owner, watching Keith Whitley alone in a field and shouting with his teenage buddies at Def Leppard, couldn’t take the disorientation of that rarified air. It’s why he’s known to grab a gator and burn through the pre-show parking lots at his own shows to get a little taste of the tailgating and celebrating.
If he recognizes that living at the speed of light may for the moment make him “Better as a Memory,” he’s not going to let go of the thrill of first trucks, times, promises or faith, which is what fires “Never Wanted Nothing More” with such a deep-seated intensity. Somewhere between back when and tomorrow, Kenny Chesney is singing songs that tell his truth and remind a whole lotta people, who’re more like him than not, about the things that matter, that hold up, that create the reasons to believe – and that’s not a bad place for a man who lives in songs to be.
“The more people I get to see in front of me – whether it’s at a football stadium or a funky little bar like the Hog’s Breath in Key West – the more I realize how much we all have in common. There are a lot of people punching a clock or having too much on their plate, a buncha people on their first date, with that nervousness and excitement that they’re really there ... we all want the same things, all hope for the same stuff and I feel like pretty much worry about the same stuff, too.
“When you look at it like that, what other kind of record could you make?”