It's a thin line between laid-back and lazy.
And for a whole lot of "Life on a Rock" (Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville), it's hard to tell which side of the line Kenny Chesney is standing on.
Chesney has been championing the laid-back, island lifestyle in his lyrics for a while, and now he is incorporating more acoustic guitar and bits of reggae into his country sound. Nothing wrong with that, especially since Chesney generally polishes all his music until it gets a specific, likable sheen.
However, "Life on a Rock" finds Chesney stretching into unfamiliar territory that he hasn't quite mastered yet. The authentic reggae sound of "Spread the Love," featuring The Wailers and Elan, makes Chesney's delivery sound all the more out of place, and lyrics like "Love really, really, really is the answer just like the wise man say" even clunkier. He fares better on "Coconut Tree" with the great Willie Nelson, but Nelson sounds so much more suited to the song, it seems to throw Chesney off.
There are times when he gets the laid-back feel right, especially on the lilting "It's That Time of Day," which conjures the feel of campfires and Coronas. He is strongest, though, in his country-rock wheelhouse, including the strutting first single "Pirate Flag" and the John Mellencamp-influenced "When I See This Bar."
Chesney should get some credit for stretching, even co-writing eight of "Life on a Rock's" 10 tracks. He should remember, though, that trying something new requires a little more effort.
"Life on a Rock"
BOTTOM LINE Taking relaxation a bit too seriously