Album Review: Kenny Chesney – Hemingway’s Whiskey

Blake Boldt | September 28th, 2010

Kenny Chesney - Hemingway's WhiskeyFour-time CMA Entertainer of the Year Kenny Chesney won’t compete for the coveted honor when the awards are handed out on November 10. In the last year, he’s taken a sabbatical from touring, effectively surrendering his title as the industry’s torchbearer.

According to Chesney, his hiatus has given him a fresh perspective in terms of picking songs. It sounds like a winning recipe for an artist who seemed to be cruising along in recent years. His first couple albums had only established him as a George Strait clone, but he’d busted through that comparison and built a career on four-minute bits of nostalgia.

Now a man in his mid-40s, Chesney offers Hemingway’s Whiskey, a reflective album where he’s pondering an uncertain future. The album’s lead single “The Boys of Fall,” focuses on a small town’s obsession with high school football, but it’s just as much an admission of his own fears as he passes through middle age.

Known largely for his rowdy devotions to island life, Chesney has become the hillbilly king of the Caribbean. With Whiskey he maintains that image and proves that he can still let loose occasionally. For years, the road warrior worked at a frantic pace, so on songs like “Coastal” and “Reality,” he’s convincing as he relishes a life of surf and sand.

Cheseny remains most comfortable with standard Southern pop-rock arrangements, and his best efforts come with the help of two distinctly different collaborators. A fine version of “You and Tequila,” a Matraca Berg/Deana Carter composition featuring Vermont rocker Grace Potter, is filled with a sense of longing and unrequited passion: “It isn’t easy to forget/The bitter taste morning left.” With “Small Y’all,” a humorous duet with George Jones that preaches peaceful relations, Chesney delivers his most traditional offering in years.

The spare title cut, written by Guy Clark, is the emotional centerpiece, playing out the sorrows of a broken man who’s “living one word to the next and living one line at a time.” After years of chasing stardom, Chesney now seems ready not to be tied down to those demands.

3.5 Stars

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  1. [...] a discussion that developed from Blake Boldt’s review of the new Kenny Chesney album Hemingway’s Whiskey, commenter Noeller brought up the term “generation-defining artist”: Because people are [...]
  1. Drew
    September 28, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the album, but this review is just way too sparse. I like what Blake has written so far, but he only gets into a few of the songs, and doesn’t actually offer much of an opinion. What is bringing the album down to just 3.5/5? Because there isn’t really anything negative in the review.

  2. luckyoldsun
    September 28, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Funny to read that “Small Y’All” appears as a duet with Chesney and George Jones on this CD. I’m sure I have a Jones CD from the early ’90s where Jones did the song by himself. And then Randy Travis recorded it a few years later on one of HIS CDs. That song was never a hit and it seemed so derivative of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” that I would not have expected it to keep coming back for more. Maybe it would work as a bickering/flirting male/female duet.

  3. Ben Foster
    September 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

    I liked “The Boys of Fall” the first few times I heard it, but I was surprised at how quickly I tired of it.

    I enjoyed “Small Y’all.” I don’t know if I’d call it traditional, but it is more country than Kenny usually gets lately. It’s cool to hear him singing with Possum!

  4. SW
    September 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Kind of have to say ditto to Drew. Definitely would have like a little more in depth critique of the album and less about Chesney’s career. I doubt I’ll pick up this album if only because I think “Boys of Fall” is probably among the worst number 1 hits of all time. The structure, both lyrically and melodically, is simply dreadful.

  5. Leeann Ward
    September 28, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I like the collaboration with Grace Potter and the title track. The rest doesn’t really work for me, including that I much prefer Randy Travis’ version of “Small Y’all.” It’s a guilty pleasure.

  6. Noeller
    September 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

    It’s an interesting album, for sure, though not the best thing I’ve listened to lately. Seems a little “deeper” than some of his more recent offerings and actually made me pause, at times, to stop and ponder as I listened.

    Oh, and the title track is the next single, btw.

  7. Ben Foster
    September 28, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I thought the review was fine. The descriptions were pretty sufficient for me.

  8. Craig R.
    September 28, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I am not a Kenny Chesney fan by any means-really- never liked him or his voice or his music. Fratboy cowboy junk music. But ” You and Tequila” is the best song he has ever made. For once his voice, mixed with Potter’s, sounds mature, graceful, and real. My mother use to say every singer has at least one song you might like- for me and Mr.Chesney it is this one. The song itself is first rate as well. Maybe Chesney has realized that no one can be a beach bum all his life without having some real damage left behind. “You and Tequila” is an adult song of real regret. And for once Chesney sounds like he is an adult.

    I know this feeling won’t last for long.

  9. K
    September 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve made it no secret that I’m far from a Kenny Chesney fan, but I really like a few songs on this album. The production is different, and he voice seems to have more texture and emotion than he has shown as of late.

    I like “Costal,” “Seven Days,” “Where I Grew Up” and “Somewhere With You.’

    I still think the majority Chesney’s lyrics are repetitive and trite for someone his age, but he’s taken a few steps forward with this project. Some of the songs seem to have more depth, emotion and production- all these elements working together makes for some great tracks.

  10. Paul W Dennis
    September 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I think the best way to describe this is “been there – heard that”

    It’s actually pretty good in spots but nothing exciting

  11. Noeller
    September 28, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I’m kinda surprised by the general negativity toward KC in this thread. For me, everything up to and including the first Greatest Hits package was really good, but from the No Shoes… disc onward, things really took a nasty turn for the worse.

  12. Leeann Ward
    September 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Then why are you surprised?

  13. Noeller
    September 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Because people are talking like KC has always sucked, which is patently untrue. His material prior to the No Shoes…. disc (and even some of the stuff on that album…) was very very good! My general dislike of his material these days comes in the form of disappointment as much as anything because I know he’s better than that. To say that Kenny’s music is terrible and always has been, is very unfair to a generation-defining artist.

  14. Leeann Ward
    September 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    There were only two commenters who said that they’ve never liked Chesney. I liked some of his nineties music, but not even a ton. In the nineties, he was an artist that I didn’t really pay much attention to either way. In the 2000s, his music changed to something that I paid attention to because it was generally shocking that he got so huge. Over all, he’s always been boring to me with a few songs standing out from the pack.

  15. Razor X
    September 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

    A generation-defining artist? I thought we were talking about Kenny Chesney??

  16. Matt Bjorke
    September 29, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Razor, you may not like it but Kenny Chesney is one of the last decade’s “Generation-defining” artists.

  17. Razor X
    September 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    How did he “define” the last decade’s generation?

  18. luckyoldsun
    September 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Matt is obviously right.
    An artist who has a bunch of No. 1 albums and singles, sells out nationwide stadium tours, and wins something like 4 “Entertainer of the Year” awards is going to be a “generation defining artist” under whatever reasonable definition that one uses.

  19. Matt Bjorke
    September 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Razor,

    It’s simple. He’s one of the FEW country acts – as Luckyoldsun pointed out – who sells out stadiums. He also has all those hits and successful albums and awards. Whether you or I think he’s good or not isn’t the point. Kenny Chesney is a genre-defying artist for a select period of time.

  20. Cutting the Treacle
    September 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Razor X is right. Kenny Chesney was a “GENRE-defining” artist for country music in the 00’s. But he certainly wasn’t a generation-defining artist.

  21. Matt Bjorke
    September 29, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    If Kenny Chesney isn’t a Generation defying artist in his genre for the last 10-15 years? Who is? Particularly given his accolades?

  22. Razor X
    September 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    What has he done that was such a game-changer for the genre? Do you think that he’ll be remembered 25 years from now?

  23. Cutting the Treacle
    September 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I imagine for kids growing up on country in the 00’s, they’ll think of Kenny Chesney the way a kid growing up in the 80’s or 90’s would think about Alabama, Garth, Reba, Shania or George Strait. They weren’t necessarily “game-changers for the genre”, but they were certainly genre-defining.

  24. Matt Bjorke
    September 29, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Razor, he certainly will be remembered 25 years from now. It isn’t ‘game-changing’ as “Treacle” says but he certainly helps to define both the Genre and the Generation of artists he’s a part of.

  25. sam (sam)
    September 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I don’t know if Chesney will be “remembered 25 years from now.” But he probably stands a decent chance. I dare say I also don’t know if George Jones or Johnny Cash or Garth Brooks will be remembered 25 years from now, either. I’m not even sure what it means to be “remembered 25 years from now.” Remembered by his fans? By people with close connections to the music business? By the population at large? Does it merely mean “remembered” or does it mean “still able to sell some concert tickets or MP3s?” Is talk about which artists will be remembered anything more than code for which artists I, or you, personally like?

    Anyhow, I like Kenny Chesney’s music on the radio and I hope he keeps putting out similar music for several years and radio keeps playing it.

  26. Bob
    September 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Would Kenny C be selling out stadiums without the great opening acts he usually has with him. I think they deserve at least some of the credit for those sold out stadiums. How would he do with no-name opening acts?

  27. Matt Bjorke
    September 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Bob,

    That’s certainly part of the show’s appeal but he as the headliner gets a lot of the credit.

  28. luckyoldsun
    September 29, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I would say that the biggest country music artists since the era of Willie/Dolly/Kenny Rogers are Garth, Strait, Reba and Chesney. I’m evaluating it by a combination of success in the country market and impact on the overall culture, beyond country.

    I used to think of Chesney as a sidekick to Tim McGraw. McGraw probably still ranks higher based strictly on the cumulative music charts, but I think Chesney surpassed McGraw a while ago in terms of his position in the American pop culture.

  29. Razor X
    September 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm


    Is talk about which artists will be remembered anything more than code for which artists I, or you, personally like?

    No, it’s code for which artists will be remembered.

  30. Troy
    September 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    “I would say that the biggest country music artists since the era of Willie/Dolly/Kenny Rogers are Garth, Strait, Reba and Chesney. I’m evaluating it by a combination of success in the country market and impact on the overall culture, beyond country.”

    If were talking about impact on overall culture I think you would have to put Shania Twain above Kenny

    Also, it really hard to tell which singers are going to be remebered later. A lot of the times its the singer that people claim as going to be a flash in a pan or flavor of the week that get long term careers and are the most remebered.

  31. luckyoldsun
    September 29, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Troy,
    I wouldn’t put Shania’s impact above Chesney’s. She was around for a short time and had a few big hits. She didn’t appear much in public as I recall. Anyway, she wasn’t even really a country artist.
    The ones I mentioned–Willie, Dolly, George, Garth, Reba, both Kennys–all became major American entertainment figures and were known to country and non-country fans alike as country artists.

  32. Troy
    September 29, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    She was still labeled as country artist and were talking about people that had biggest influnce and culture influce. She was huge in the public if you ask random person do you know Shania Twain and ask random people do you know Kenny Chesney more will say Shania. Kenny has been around for a while but never reach the heights that Shania Twain did (his best selling album 4times platium her best selling album 20 times platium). And finally argueably the two biggest singers right now in Country music (Swift, and Underwood) cite Twain as an influnce. Swift has said before that Shania is her biggest influnce so I think she influnceing the next group of country stars over Kenny Chesney and has had much more of impact on country music than him.

    Now about the album I like it more than his last 2 cd’s. Its better than I expected after listening to Boys of Fall.

  33. Bren
    October 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    He is the King of Country!!!

  34. SHORESLADY
    October 2, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Shocked by the phrase describing Chesney as a “man in his early 40s”. Maybe he’ll get my attention when he records music that more closely reflects that reality. Any Guy Clark work has to be worth hearing but my first reaction was that I couldn’t imagine Kenny Chesney actually reading Hemingway. He’s more the type who’d hire Radney Foster to write his term paper.

  35. Amanda
    October 4, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Shoreslady – you shouldn’t be so quick to judge someone who you clearly don’t know much about. Kenny is actually a huge fan of Hemingway and always has been. He’s mentioned that in interviews for years.

    And to the poster who said that the title cut is the next single, that is incorrect.

  36. Thomas
    October 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

    @ bren

    …kings, dwarfs or whatever, as long as a princess thinks they have a sexy tractor – fairytale stuff.

  37. Ellie
    October 17, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Not exactly sure what Kenny’s hiatus from touring has anything to do with this album review, but I applaud him for taking the break. I heard him say in an interview that he felt like his performance was getting too ‘auto-pilot like’ .. not sure what his exact words were but he felt like he needed to take a break to bring the newness back .. for HIM .. he felt this was only fair to his fans. I love his honesty for admitting this to the industry and to his fans … it’s what I always love about Kenny .. he’s real. I’ve seen him in concert 5 times and never picked up on this, but I can totally understand how he’d feel this way.

    Now, to the new album, “Hemingway’s Whiskey” .. words that come to mind, which describe this collection of art are nostalgia, regret, passion, pain, new love, salt of the earth, gratitude, the grind of life, priorities, letting go, lighten up, … basically a rollercoaster ride of emotions .. rolled into these songs .. I thoroughly appreciate all that went into this album and all that Kenny has shared about himself through his selection of these songs. Whether he personally relates to these songs or not is somewhat irrelevant, but he sure has a gift for singing them with such passion that the listener can’t help but think he is singing about himself.

    One of the most glaring omissions from Blake’s review of this album is the Bonus Track (on the Deluxe Edition) “I Didn’t Get Here Alone,” written by Chesney. To me, this is the absolute highlight of this album because it genuinely comes straight from Kenny’s heart. This song is a tribute to all those who helped Kenny get to where he is today .. the crew, the band, the fans, his parents, those ‘looking down from up above’ and he sings it like he means it. To all of you Kenny critics .. no, this is not the most amazing song ever written; it’s a simple song lyrically and musically .. but someone like me who appreciates Kenny for sharing himself and his dream with the fans, sees the simple beauty in this tune of gratitude and appreciation.

    While “You and Tequila” is undoubtedly a beautifully harmonic melody and I never tire of it, there are a few other songs that really get to me and deserve mentioning. “Seven Days” is a brilliant depiction of new love that lingered for 7 straight days, how blissful .. to be absorbed in a new love for a week .. “helping her climb across those jetty rocks was the first time I touched her hand”; I think we can all remember a the first time we touched someone we ended up loving. The week of love unfolded and lingered so beautifully in only a few minutes of this song.

    “Where I Grew Up” ended up growing on me. At first it felt a little contrived, but as I listened more carefully, I realized it was the talking about how the hard times we go through make us grow up, especially while we’re young. I immediate flased back to my dad’s death from cancer when I was 26 .. within a day, I was the parent and I was taking care of my dad .. yes, I grew up pretty quickly then. “You learn as you go; that’s how you grow” is so true. There’s no manual to life and we never know what’s waiting around the bend.

    “Reality” and “Coastal” were songs from Kenny’s signature forumula telling us to ‘lighten up’ and give us a little glimpse of what it would be like to just ride off into the sunset and ‘leave it all behind.’ It’s fun when Kenny takes us there, tells us it’s ok to go there, even if it’s only for 3 minutes!

    “Round and Round” hit me harder the more I listened to it .. I think this song was as much about Kenny as it is about any of us. As Kenny indicated in a previous song, “Wife and Kids” .. “There’s always a price you Pay” for whatever road we take in life. This song was a little reminded for me to appreciate what I have, be still and conscious of how I’m living my life.

    The song “Somewhere With You” reminded me of forbidden, passionate love. The intensity (and increased speed) of the verses directly translated the intensity of the relationship between the two people who, for whatever reasons, can’t be together but (he) can’t stop thinking about her.

    Finally, the title track, “Hemingway’s Whiskey” is honest, rich, gritty and down to earth. Personally, I felt the song was about the struggles of a creative life …the desire to create and to find inspiration .. a journey that can be loney and frustrating but in the end, the rough edges get smoothed out and there’s a finished, polished work of art.

    Of course, all of what I have written is my personal opinion. I just really appreciate Kenny, who he is, and all he shares about himself through the music he writes and chooses. He causes me to reflect on the past, live in the present and not worry too much about the future and I love him for that!

  38. donna
    October 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I love KC…I think this album is enjoyable to listen to…but as an effort on his part I think it was somewhat lazy, easy, similar to what he has done in past. Love boys of fall. He is on vacation now..needs to keep in contact with fans somehow and this is what I expected knowing that…overall album is enjoyable and predictable. will always love kc and anything he does..just think he is sliding along with this one
    love you kenny

  39. Chelle
    December 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    I love Kenny Chesney. I didn’t get into country music until a few years ago and Kenny was the first country artist that I listened to. Hearing his music and loving it prompted me to start exploring country music and now, it’s my favorite genre. I enjoy this cd very much. It is a little different than some of his other works, but just as enjoyable. I’m going to his concert in June and can’t wait to hear his older songs as well as songs from this album.

  40. Chelle
    December 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    By the way, Ellie…very nice review; perhaps you should have written the review for this CD. You certainly covered it much more thoroughly than Blake did.

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