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‘Cosmic Hallelujah’ review: Kenny Chesney shifts from country storytelling

Kenny Chesney's

Kenny Chesney's "Cosmic Hallelujah" marks a shift in his storytelling.

KENNY CHESNEY

“Cosmic Hallelujah”

THE GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE A cosmic shift in his country storytelling.

Kenny Chesney has built a stadium-filling career, as well as his own country subgenre, with his songs about escaping the rat race.

His odes to “Summertime” and “Beer in Mexico” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” have long established Chesney’s credentials as leader of No Shoes Nation.

However, on “Cosmic Hallelujah” (Blue Chair Bay/Columbia Nashville), Chesney not only adds to that canon, but, for the first time, he also sings about the reasons that escape seems so alluring.

It’s sort of jarring to hear the generally laid-back singer deliver the dark “Rich and Miserable,” with its chorus of complaints including “Enough is never enough, American dream never wakes up . . . We won’t be happy ’til we’re rich and miserable.” But Chesney handles it well, showing a new side of his world view.

The same goes for the recent single “Noise,” on which he adopts Bon Jovi-esque stadium rock to rail about all the distractions of the modern world.

Another departure is Chesney’s current hit, a duet with P!nk called “Setting the World on Fire” that sounds more like it came from Taylor Swift than the guy who did “I Go Back.” It’s the closest thing to a pop crossover hit Chesney has had since a string of ballads more than a decade ago. No wonder he decided to retool the album and push its release back three months to accommodate it.

That said, Chesney is still at his best when he champions those working for the weekend. And he may have given them his best anthem yet with the instant-classic “Bucket,” where he offers this solution to life’s problems: “I made a bucket list, changed the ‘B’ to an ‘F.’ ” The result will fit nicely between Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” In other words, country perfection.

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