Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – Rollin’ with the Flow
When Mark Chesnutt hit in 1990 with “Too Cold at Home,” one of the best neo-traditional country songs ever recorded, few would have guessed that Chesnutt would become even better known for his cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.” Now, nine years after the cover song that marked the end of his radio run, Chesnutt is returning to his neo-traditional roots with Rollin’ with the Flow, an album that’s remarkably radio ready, but in a way that’s about 15 years old, and consequently is as anachronistic as it is sonically pleasing.
The problem is not that Chesnutt is returning to the sound of country music’s second golden age, it’s that he’s returning to the sound of a B-list neo-traditional radio star, a talented artist who makes quality music that is nonetheless acutely commercially aware and profoundly period-specific.
In a way, it’s a shame that Chesnutt released Rollin’ with the Flow in 2008 instead of 1994, because some of these tracks would have been can’t-miss radio hits in Chesnutt’s heyday. “Come on in, The Whiskey’s Fine” offers an infectiously melodic description of the sorriest corner bar that you’ll ever find (Bubba must’ve shot a lot more than the jukebox) and “If the Devil Brought You Roses” is a creative make-up rocker. Even the title track and first single charted surprisingly well for a Charlie Rich cover sung by a staunch neo-traditionalist, and that song’s modest success is an indication of just how well-executed the songs on Rollin’ with the Flow are, even if they seem lost in time.
So is Rollin’ with the Flow simply a delusional attempt to reclaim radio territory that hasn’t existed in ten years? Catchy ditties like “Goin’ On Later On” certainly support that contention, and Chesnutt doesn’t make a real attempt to record anything timeless. While album-opener “Things to Do in Wichita” swings for the “Too Cold at Home” fences, it’s too unintentionally hilarious to carry the same weight: “wake up make my way down to the lobby / get a bite to eat and a cup or two of coffee / read USA Today front to back / kill most of the morning doin’ that” pretty much accurately describes “things to do in Wichita” whether or not your woman just left you. “Man in the Mirror” is the album’s second single and most sentimental track but treads the same “Cats in the Cradle” ground that other neo-traditionalists have already done well, while “When You Love Her Like Crazy” is little more than a whimsically-sung turn-of-phrase. But Chesnutt does these songs so well that it invites an alternative conclusion: radio-friendly neo-traditional music is truly what’s in his soul, and during the nineties Chesnutt was simply fortunate enough to have his passion briefly collide with radio’s desires.
Steel guitars wail and Telecaster strings bend all over this thing, and for the true country fan, Rollin’ With the Flow is the best toe-tapping album of 2008. Still, country fans could be excused for finding better things to do than listen to an album that sounds like the work of an artist who’s still in the thick of the radio game but doesn’t realize that he’s playing a different game than everybody else.
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