Kenny Chesney's "Hemingway's Whiskey" CD

Kenny Chesney's "Hemingway's Whiskey" CD Credit: AP Photo

Stars who dominate their genres the way Kenny Chesney has ruled country the past few years usually have two options: They hang on to the formula or they change to something else entirely. (Remember Garth Brooks / Chris Gaines?)

With "Hemingway's Whiskey" (BNA), Chesney tries to do both. He offers plenty of the good-time country anthems fans flock to him for - especially effective with the chugging "Live a Little," built around the chorus "I need to live a little, have some fun, take some time waste it on No. 1," and the clever, island-tinged "Coastal," which twists the idea of "going postal" into going "coastal" and enjoying some time vacationing in Florida.

He also serves up some touching, story-driven ballads, such as the gorgeous, bittersweet "You and Tequila" with Grace Potter, and the struggle-filled "Where I Grew Up."

But Chesney also takes some artistic risks. The first single "The Boys of Fall," a six-minute epic ode to football, is a strange success. On "Small, Y'all," he teams up with George Jones for a playfully weird warning against arguments, that's almost a PSA to stop adult bullying.

Sometimes, that goes a bit too far. On "Somewhere With You," he goes from jam-bandish lite-jazz to an odd, rapid-fire, almost R&B-like delivery. "Seven Days" unspools like it arrived from a Broadway musical gone awry.

However, the energy from the experimenting seems to have helped Chesney recharge, making "Hemingway's Whiskey" his best album since "When the Sun Goes Down."

Kenny Chesney


"Hemingway's Whiskey"


BOTTOM LINE Packs a kick, but still goes down smooth

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