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Life on a Rock by Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney has been recharging his batteries in the islands for years, but he’s never really told stories about his friends and life down there until Life on a Rock.

Press materials call the album the “most intimate” of his career, and the singer actually wrote or co-wrote eight of its 10 tracks. The results are a mixed bag.

“Lindy” and “Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)” are poignant sketches of people he’s encountered over the years, and “Hey Now” is a particularly powerful account of loss and the mental images that remain. “Coconut Tree,” featuring Willie Nelson, floats along like a sweet ocean breeze. “When I See This Bar” (co-written with “El Cerrito Place” scribe Keith Gattis) nicks the “Pink Houses” guitar riff for an exploration of how place and memory are closely linked.

Less successful are “Marley” and “It’s That Time of Day,” which meander aimlessly without offering anything resembling a hook, and lead single “Pirate Flag,” which sticks out like a sore thumb.

Ultimately, Life on a Rock’s most exciting moments come when Kenny pushes his limits on something unusual. “Spread the Love,” for example, puts the country pirate at the helm of a full-on percussive, bass-heavy reggae track supplied by Bob Marley’s Wailers Band.

And he gets downright existential on “Must Be Something I Missed” (co-written with Mac McAnally), a minor-key shuffle with the chorus Yeah, we live and learn, crash and burn, ’til its our turn again, the way it’s always been. It’s a thrilling glimpse into Kenny’s psyche and the motivations behind his relentless career building. He sounds genuinely exhausted, making his need for respite in the islands all the more understandable. 

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