2016 CD REVIEW
COSMIC HALLELUJAH (BLUE CHAIR-SONY).
JESUS AND ELVIS CELEBRATED IN A TEXAS BAR
“Jesus and Elvis, painted on velvet/ hanging at the bar here every night/ it's good to be back again, oh me and my old friends/ beneath the neon cross and a string of Christmas lights/ Lola built this joint in sixty-seven/ and her boy went out to fight on Christmas eve/ in a war nobody won, she lost her only son/ now everything he loved is what you see.” - Jesus and Elvis - Matraca Berg-Hayes Carll-Allison Moorer.
Tennessean star Kenny Chesney may have only written two of the 12 songs on his huge selling 17th album Cosmic Hallelujah but one of the memorable highlights was inspired by the death of a young Texan soldier in the Vietnam War.
Jesus And Elvis celebrates the serviceman’s memorial created by his mother Frances Lala in her small Texas bar - Lala’s Little Nugget.
Recent Texan tourist Hayes Carll and singing partner Allison Moorer discovered the historic North Austin icon, featuring the neon cross and Christmas lights tributes, and wrote the song with prolific Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Matraca Berg.
Berg, 52 and singing spouse of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band bassist Jeff Hanna, collaborated with Carll, 40, and new partner Moorer.
Allison, now 44, last toured here as duet partner and seventh wife of controversial singer-songwriter Steve Earle.
This time she features as a background vocalist on Jesus And Elvis on an album that also features harmonies by Alison Krauss and co-producer Buddy Cannon’s daughter Melonie.
The song is a sober sibling of the rollicking sailing celebration Bar At The End Of The World that echoes Chesney’s penchant for brine boosted beach ballads that have won him an audience way beyond mainstream country and an estimated fortune of $42 million plus.
Kenny, now 48, was born in Knoxville and raised in Luttrell in East Tennessee - similar geographical roots to the late Chet Atkins.
But his albums with escapist titles such as Poets and Pirates, Hemingway’s Whiskey, When The Sun Goes Down, No Shoes, No Shirts, No Problems and Lucky Old Sun were a vast contrast.
So it’s no surprise he changed the name of this disc from Some Town Somewhere, originally set for July, to Cosmic Hallelujah when it belatedly arrived in October.
That was after release of first single Noise that he wrote with Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jon Nite.
Noise - a pungent parody of information addiction, tech dependence and fear fuelled audio onslaughts in the cities (especially sporting events, hoons cars, frenetic advertising and wrecking balls) - reached Top 10.
But it was eclipsed by his huge 29th #1 hit with Pink on Setting The World On Fire - finalist in the 59 thGrammy Awards in February.
“I'm very proud of Noise and I think it was a very important song, it's even more relevant now,” Chesney revealed.
“But I wanted my album to be released on a human emotion rather than a social statement. It was a gut feeling that the fans would respond better to that human element, of being in that moment when like turnsinto love.”
WHY KENNY WAITED FOR PINK
“Yeah we got drunk on La Cienega Boulevard/ taking pictures of people we thought were stars/ it’s easy to give in to your heart/ when you’re drunk on La Cienega Boulevard/ when the song coming out of the speakers/ was the band that you had on your t-shirt/ we were screaming cause all the streets were empty/ and you kissed me, and we were setting the world on fire.” - Setting The World on Fire - Ross Copperman-Matt Jenkins-Josh Osborne.
But Chesney had to wait to activate his love celebration with Pink on his 14th #1 chart album.
“When I first heard that song I knew that the melody was just different,” Chesney explained.
“There was a certain thread of angst and energy that runs through the undertow of that song. It wasn't enough for me to sing it myself. It needed the female perspective to make the song emotionally authentic. And I thought who has a voice that can make all these emotions authentic? Who has the voice to draw people in? And there's a lot of great singers out there but to me Pink's voice can hold all those emotions and more. She's the best.”
So good that Chesney handed the chorus over to her.
“No doubt about it but that's what makes the song great,” Chesney confessed.
“I'm this narrator in the verses. I'm drawing people in and getting them close - "Shush, come here I gotta tell you something" -and then boom here she comes! And she just rinses them!”
So why was the album delayed until October?
“This record took a lot of twists and turns and variations and it's unlike any that I've ever done because I thought I had it done,” Chesney revealed.
“When we got the OK from Pink's camp to release Setting the World On Fire it made me stop and reevaluate. Initially I really wanted that song to be the first single. But we couldn't get my world and her world to parallel at that moment.
“And then I did a lot of soul searching. Once we had Noise out there we knew that we had to wait until it ran its course. Being able to move the record from July to October allowed me to really go, ‘OK, do we have this?"
“I hate trying to be creative in the middle of a tour. I hate it. And I did that some on this record. But I was able to really channel that exhaustion and really take a look and try to back away from what I worked on for so long. You get so close to these songs and you think, ‘Oh my God, this is it, this is great" and then because I was afforded that time, there's a cosmic hallelujah in that too, because I was able to really connect and find some songs that made the connection a lot stronger.”
“Yeah and we got one of the most badass singers on the planet to sing with me. I just felt like that was a better situation. That's why we moved the album. And when we did, it allowed me to go back into the studio and find another three songs - TripAround the Sun, All the Pretty Girls and Bucket.
“I’m really proud of Cosmic Hallelujah. It took a very unique journey to get to where it is now. We thought I had my record done and then we found all these great songs.”
TRIP AROUND THE SUN
“Well they say the sea is rising, well that's alright with me/ 'Cause there ain't no other place than on the sea I'd rather be/ and that second comet's coming, it's right around the bend/ and someday could be any day this world is gonna end/ but that's alright, that's okay/ there ain't nothing we can do about the whole thing anyway.” - Trip Around The Sun - Nick Brophy-Brett James-Hillary Lindsey.
“What's ironic about that song title is every year before we start rehearsals at the beginning of February, at the first meeting I say ‘isn't it great that we all get to take another trip around the sun together." And here's the song and I thought, "Oh my God, that's us!" It's knowing how blessed we are to have music in our lives and to be able to make so many people smile because we have music in our lives.”
Chesney’s calypso celebration features Bar At The End Of The World, the wry Bucket and the freedom frolics of Winnebago.
“Music is medicine,” Chesney proclaims.
“I does so much good for people. You can find your life, your truth and, yes, your fun it. That’s one of the things that drew me to music and it’s one of the best things about being out on the road. Seeing all the people, hearing them sing and cheer and you can tell how much they’re having. The fact music can do that, that’s why we go play.”
The singer celebrates rural living in the old style shuffle of Some Town Somewhere and peaks with his parody of the materialist American dream in Rich And Miserable.
RICH AND MISERABLE NOT THE LIFE FOR KENNY
“Green grass, help the cows graze, hedge fund 401/ keg and milk and honey in the land of the free/ New York Times, Farmer's Almanac/ too busy to call our mamas/ back porch ain't what it used to be/ we don't know what we want/ but we want it and we want it all right now.” - Rich And Miserable - Jesse Frasure-Shane McAnally-Josh Osborne.
Chesney’s career peaked when he won BMI Publishing and CMA Pinnacle awards in November.
“Being recognised for my creativity and how much songwriting means to me and what I've been fortunate enough to give to the world as a songwriter means everything to me,” Chesney confessed.
“I'm getting an award as a songwriter that they gave to Willie Nelson and to me. Nobody has given more to the world than Willie.
“Imagine the responsibility of getting an award that only two other people have got,” Chesney said of the trophy previously won by Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift.
“What am I gonna say? It's very special because if the BMI award is about being creative, the CMA award is about my investment in the fans and their investment back in me and how beautiful that's been. I really love what I do when I'm up there. There's this love exchange that's hard to define.”
Chesney is taking 2017 off from national touring but has sold 106,000 tickets to two arena shows including Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on August 25 with Thomas Rhett and Old Dominion.
“Maybe on my year off I'll actually have a year off,” Chesney says.
“I know I'm doing seven shows. I've got Tortuga and a couple of other festivals. They're trying to have me do a few more. But I'm looking forward to just doing those seven and just doing what I want. I'm not sure what that is. When I'm really busy I crave being still and when I'm still I start to freak the hell out.
“I'm pretty sure we're going to do a big tour in 2018 and you just can't wait until February of 2018 to set that up. The second half of the year I'll be mentally busy prepping for 2018, but the first half I'm going to be doing some shows and I'm hoping to be creative in some way. Hopefully I'll get to spend some more time with my family and reconnect with the people you're not supposed to have to get reconnected to, but that is my life and that is my truth.
“It's going to allow me to take a really authentic deep breath. Because, if you think about it, in 2015 and 2016 we did 150-something shows in an 18-month period, big stadium shows. And that's a lot of shows at that level.
“Like my grandmother said, ‘Chocolate cake is great, but enough will make you sick.’ So we're putting the cake away for just a little bit and then we'll put it back out on the table.
Chesney works on the theory that fans can’t miss him if he doesn’t go away.
“And who wants to be there? Hey look at me, I'm still here! That's where you don't want to be. Over the years I feel like I've had a pretty good finger on the pulse of when to hit it hard and when to back away a little bit. Sooner or later, I figure I'll want to pull the guitar out of the case.’