Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – Rollin’ with the Flow

Matt Clark | July 1st, 2008

m-chesnutt.jpg 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.

3 Stars

  1. Rick
    July 1, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    The odds of Mark scoring any radio hits off this CD is pretty slim, but I’m not so sure that is the goal. Maybe Mark has just tailored this album for his long time neo-traditionalist fan base he carved out back in the early to mid 1990’s. All those fans of his early albums will likely be quite happy with this latest effort because it doesn’t sound suitable for today’s Top 40 country radio environment. I’m always glad to see the traditional sounding legacy artists keep putting out new music even if it doesn’t set the charts on fire.

  2. Matt B.
    July 1, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    I generally felt the same way about this record when I reviewed it. I do think that the cover art is terrible and something that a 5 year old could do in MS Paint.

  3. Thomas
    July 2, 2008 at 12:58 am

    cool review matt, it reminds me of one of those restaurant reviews that deal with places that haven’t been the “flavour of the month” for years but still serve some of those tasty home-style cooking dishes. i haven’t heard this album yet but i can’t wait to give it a try – your take sounds inviting enough to me.

  4. Rand
    July 2, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Music is great – album cover is terrible! Who the hell green lighted THAT?!?

  5. Chris N.
    July 2, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Here’s a good question for us all to ponder: In the iTunes age, do album covers matter anymore?

  6. Kelly
    July 2, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Good question Chris, I wish covers still did matter, but like the CD, i am sure they will be fairly useless before too long. It’s a shame, cuz recent covers from Bart Crow, 1100 Springs, Coldplay and My Morning Jacket have been really great.

  7. Matt B.
    July 2, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Chris,

    The album cover is ALL that matters in the digital age. With the new ipod touches of the world, it helps us locate the album we’re looking for. And it still is eye-grabbing at places like iTunes. Still, the rest of album design may not matter except for a digital PDF.

  8. Rand
    July 2, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    A friend and I were discussing this a while back. He’s starting another blog and wrote this article about the importance of album covers: http://produceyou.com/1000-points-of-light/

  9. Josh
    July 2, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I agree with the above sentiment and distaste: bad cover label, but the music haunts me back to my childhood years: Randy Travis, George Strait, John Anderson, and the like that it’s wonderful to dip myself back into magic waters and taste that freedom I had as a kid. Aaaahhh…to be young again.

  10. hairandtoenails
    July 2, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Mark Chesnutt is one of my favorites and this CD is quite good. Mark’s voice, as always, is awesome. I think he has one of the best voices in country music. Some of the songs are just ok.

    “Come On In” is just a list of bad characteristics of a bar (bad location, bad food, bad patrons,” with a sorta-lame punchline: “who cares if this bar is terrible, at least the whiskey is good.” This sounds a bit like the thinking of Aaron Tippin’s “There Ain’t Nothing Wrong With The Radio” applied to a bar. But Tippin’s song worked and “Come On In” doesn’t.

    I think the songs here tend to be decent, but not great. Chesnutt’s voice saves the day, though. I’m a longtime Chesnutt fan and I long for the day Mark records an album of songs worth of his great voice. That hasn’t happened since 1992’s “Longnecks and Short Stories” and 1995’s “Wings.”

  11. CF
    July 3, 2008 at 12:04 am

    I love Mark and enjoy a lot of his music, especially the hard-core, traditional, honky-tonk stuff, but for some reason, I don’t really care for the album. Granted, I just listened to clips, and I did like what I heard on some parts, but it just didn’t really pull me in.

    Maybe it’s the cheap album cover turning me off? lol. I dunno. Maybe psychologically, I’m making a link of the album cover to the quality of the music. It does sound kinda dated as stated in the review. I do like the title cut, though.

  12. CF
    July 3, 2008 at 12:05 am

    … also: “Goin’ On Later On” is pretty damn catchy I gotta say.

  13. Matt B.
    July 3, 2008 at 7:52 am

    CF,

    The album cover has no direct link on the quality of the record. It’s a straight-ahead Mark Chesnutt record. :)

  14. Mirandas2cool
    July 21, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Yaaaaayyyyy More COUNTRY music!! Mark is awesome!!

  15. George Stallings
    January 21, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    This album is boring as HELL!! Chesnutt is firmly stuck in the past…His past. There is nothing new in this recording. As far as the cover art goes, I guess KMart photo studio was running a special and the picture was taken there. Save your money for a more modern country artist. If you want to hear good Chesnutt, just listen to one of his first 2 or 3 albums.

  16. JJ
    June 12, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Mark has great songs in this album! Even he admits the cover is a huge mistake, “looks like a wax figure of me!”, he told me this in Poteet, Texas! Well Mark is overseen and is one of country’s greatest, we should all shut up and enjoy!!

  17. jtxl
    October 30, 2009 at 1:27 am

    This is another great Chesnutt album. I have them all and I feel sorry for all the people here complaining. This is one of the greatest voices to ever sing a country song. It’s country music the way it is meant to be. All you complainers obviously have never seen a live club show. He is pure magic. Every one of his songs is made for dancing and you have not lived until you spend a night dancing to his music. If you don’t get it, what a shame, it’s not likely that you will ever reach a level above the thought process of a tween who buys /listens to music that they were “told” was good but can’t hear the difference between miley cyrus and quality and talent.

  18. Ol' Rooter
    September 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Just thought I would leave an update on how well this “mediocre” album holds up compared to the crap spit out by the Establishment nowdays. I’m STILL playing these songs at least once a day. They’re catchy, Mark and his band are tight, and pure COUNTRY. You ying-yangs worried about how bad the cover looks are too hung up on trying to be relevant that you’re not hearing the best singer in country music today.

    You young-uns that are being brought up on this whiney, pop country crap are missing out on what it’s all about. It’s all about country dammit. You wanna listen to elevator music, buy yourself a today’s country album. You wanna hear some real twang? Break you off some of this 2 year old music.

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