Kenny Chesney — “El Cerrito Place”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | September 24th, 2012

kenny-chesneySongwriter: Keith Gattis

If age is wearing on Kenny Chesney, it’s nowhere more obvious than in his single choices of late. While the stadium superstar hasn’t fully abandoned the boisterous country-rock anthems he’s made a career on – cue his recent collaboration with Tim McGraw “Feel Like a Rock Star” – a pattern of riskier song selections released to country radio has emerged over the past couple years.

Beyond their moodier, sparer sound, these songs also share a strong connection to some of Nashville’s heaviest-hitting singer-songwriters, removed from the current cadre of Nashville hit makers. Cases in point: The sweet, poignant duet with Mac McAnally on “Down the Road” in 2008, followed by the stream-of-consciousness storm “Somewhere with You” from Shane McAnally. He quickly followed those two up with the exquisite “You and Tequila,” penned by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter and buoyed by the sweet harmonies and rougher edges of Grace Potter, and last single “Come Over,” another McAnally co-write. His popular winking man-boy innuendo and island sheen may have been missing, but all of these songs drew from the wanderlust he weaves so successfully through almost all his songs.

That search continues on “El Cerrito Place,” the latest shipment to country radio from new album Welcome to the Fishbowl and next in this string of serious, simple singles. The weighty, world-weary song made its way into the world twice before, on its songwriter Keith Gattis’ 2005 album Big City Blues and perhaps the best-known version via Charlie Robison’s 2004 Good Times. Both of these iterations hang raggedly on their singers’ voices, and both benefit from piano and organ accompaniment.

Unfortunately, Chesney’s version shares only that instrumentation: The song’s necessary grit and gravel are noticeably missing from his delivery, and everything comes off a little too smooth, a touch too neat and tidy. Longtime producer Buddy Cannon goes heavy on the production, ramping up the sound and watering down Chesney even further. Potter’s welcome return is the highlight of the song, injecting a sexy aimlessness to the meandering lyrics that Chesney is finally able to feed off at the song’s soaring last minute.

In the end, it’s an admirable shot at making a great song mainstream. Chesney’s obvious eye for quality as of late continues with partner Potter in “El Cerritto Place,” marred only by his ear for the same type of prettiness derided in the song.

Thumbs Down

  1. Baron Lane
    September 24, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Kudos to Chesney for putting $$$ in very deserving pockets.

  2. Ben Foster
    September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Kind of indifferent to Chesney’s take on this. Good song, but definitely a little too slick for my ear.

  3. TX Music Jim
    September 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Heavy handed production ruins it. It needs the sparseness and rouch edges of Charlies version.

  4. Spoony
    September 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    The review sounds positive, yet it gets a thumbs-down. I really liked Charlie Robison’s version, probably my favorite song from the album. Chesney might miss the mark on grit but he doesn’t bastardize the song, the song doesn’t necessarily need grit. I’m glad the song will be going mainstream and Chesney oughta be as good a choice as anyone to bring it there.

  5. Andrew
    September 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I think I’d like this a lot more if I Charlie Robison hadn’t already done a great job with it. Chesney’s version isn’t necessarily bad, it just can’t match what Robison already did.

  6. TX Music Jim
    September 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I am happy that Mr Gattis will most likely make some bucks on a great tune. In that respect is is a good thing.

  7. luckyoldsun
    September 25, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Chesney does his usual great job on this song, though it could do without the mishmash that the producer throws in right before the end.

    Actually, I think Charlie Robison is the odd man out. If I want to hear the gritty version the song, I’ll play Keith Gattis’s brilliant, brooding “Big City Blues” album.

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