When it comes to country music, the topics that one can cover are pretty limited: girls, drinking, being sick of your job, and dirt back-roads. The narrowness of these topics is amplified, it seems, if you are a modern-day, male country singer. In recent years, male country artists have fallen far behind their female counterparts. The women of country will often sing with truth and honesty about what it is like to grow up in small country towns, and at the same time, they will challenge the tropes of their culture. Kenny Chesney’s new album, The Big Revival, does nothing to lessen this gap between male and females in the country scene—in fact, the subjects of his songs drip with cliches. That said, he does create an album of truly enjoyable tunes.
The first song and title track begins a cappella, with Chesney announcing the coming of the big revival—which, in southern terms, is the revival of a small southern church and its congregation. Then comes the traditional country banjo. The most shocking part of the song comes after this by way of the guitar and lyrics. The guitar is less Townes Van Zandt and more Aerosmith. It gives the song a sense of excitement every time it comes in at the chorus. The lyrics too are impressive. They perfectly paint the picture of what it is like to be in a southern church, with lines like “Reverend Jones struts and dances / While the guitar plays ‘Amazing Grace,’” and “He testifies in tongues of fire / With tears of joy running down his face.” These images provide a look into what these churches are like for someone who has never been, and they may prove extremely relatable to someone who is in the first pew every Sunday.
The ability to be relatable—even more so than his male country counterparts—comes through most evidently in the album’s first single, “American Kids.” The lyrics paint picture of small-town American life, from the “Baptist church parkin’ lot, tryin’ not to get caught” to the “Yellow dog school bus kickin’ up red dust.” While the lyrics are ringing of white bread Americana, the instrumentation, and in particular the percussion, pick of the eccentricities and little oddities of this kind of life.
Similarly, “‘Til it’s Gone” borrows the soft and loud dynamic of the pixies to create great rock-pop-country tension. While “Wild Child” finally slows it down, it is ultimately lackluster and wastes a truly great voice in Grace Potter. But what makes both of these songs interesting—and the rest of the album interesting—is when Chesney dips into his lower register. There, he sounds like a true country superstar, a Johnny Cash. This color in his voice only lasts a few seconds, so if you’re not listening, you’ll miss it.
The shining moment of the album, however, is its last track. In “If This Bus Could Talk,” Chesney reminisces about the old days and makes the listener feel as though he or she is being let in on a secret—what those walls have seen, the times they “danced with the devil,” and when they “prayed to the Lord.”
The problem with The Big Revival is the lack of variety. He sticks to country songs within a pop song structure. That way, every song is catchy and sing-along-in-your-car good, but there are times when the listener wants and should be challenged. Chesney wants to please, and please he does, but even pleasure can get boring without something to mix it up.
Chesney does not do anything revolutionary on this new record, and therefore, one may wonder if it warrants its title. It may not “revive” anything, but it surely is a good time.
Featured Image Courtesy of Blue Chair Records