I will cop to being a Kenny Chesney fan from his first BNA Records release in 1994. Back then when people were starting to rant on who the ‘next George Strait’ would be I pegged Chesney. Perhaps it was my teenage mind being able to identify more with Chesney than Strait or just pure dumb luck that I predicted him to become the star that he is. Many people may just be hopping on the Chesney bandwagon but how many of them actually own all of Chesney’s records (Both the original and re-issued “In My Wildest Dreams” and holiday record included)? Kenny’s last record was an absolute monster that was packed with a multitude of hits and “Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” is of to a fine start with a 5 week mega hit in “Never Wanted Nothing More” and sophomore single “Don’t Blink.” Currently just outside the top 10 (in it’s 3rd week), the song briefly held the all-time chart debut record for a new single Before Garth Brooks toppled it with last week’s #1 hit (and debut) “More Than A Memory“. Both songs set up the album quite nicely for a overall number one chart debut (if Chesney can survive the ”rap wars”) that would fall in-line with the last few releases from Kenny.
Those first two singles start off the record and they give off ‘instant gratification’ for the fans who may have bought the record for those two singles. However if those fans stop at those two slice-of-life songs then they’d sorely be missing the best tracks on the record. Ol’ George Strait can count on one hand the amount of duet partners he’s had so the fact that he appears here with Kenny is high praise for the artist indeed. Mixing in the tropical laid-back melody Chesney’s gotten famous for with more ‘modern’ country influences, the song certainly is fun while the two star vocalists mest well together. The whole thing is playful and I can see how the song might make an appearance on the radio in the summer of 2008. While some will call the first half of this record a calculated affair for the predominantly housewife fanbase, Kenny looks a little inward with the Brett James/Jim Collins ballad “Wife and Kids.” The title might suggest a sappy ballad in the making but instead it finds Kenny reflecting/hoping that he can have the people in the title of the song someday down the road. It may be written and sung from the guys point of view but there are plenty of career women who will certainly relate to the song as well.
Kenny heads back to the islands with reggae-pop of “Got A Little Crazy” and the pretty ballad “Better As A Memory” references Kenny’s short marriage to Renee Zellweger. He follows up that track with a gem. A ’first-for-country’ song that discusses what one single mother does to keep food on the table for her children. Written by Don “The Gambler“ Schlitz and Brett James, “Dancin’ For The Groceries” is such a unique song lyrically that we can forgive the line “in sequins and laces/she’s dancin’ for the kid’s braces“ Dwight Yoakam fans are undoubtedly pissed off that Kenny chose to cut his “Wild Ride.” The only remotely ‘country’ thing about the song is the lyric (and kenny’s vocal delivery) because Joe Walsh plays some loud, loud, loud guitars and adds in some squakbox (a la Rascal Flatts) to give off a party vibe. Despite all the reasons not to like the song, I kinda like it. It’d certainly make for a fun concert moment. The record ends with the soft reflective ballad “Demons.” This is the kind of song that is so well and eloquently written that you hope that it gets released to radio. Is it a likely candidate for such things? probably not but stranger things have happend and the song’s pedigree (it was written by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Jon Randall who wrote “Whiskey Lullaby”) gives it a stronger chance. It’s a song that Kenny has lived but perhaps, more importantly, many of us have lived it.
“Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” may have a few ups and downs along the way from “Never Wanted Nothing More” to “Demons” but for the most part it’s the album that his fans have come to expect. Perhaps the only real gripe with the record is that Kenny didn’t lend his own pen to the songs (but did lend it to the current Rascal Flatts hit). Still, he sings the songs and that is what keeps his 13th studio record worth picking up.