It’s no secret that the Caribbean islands have had a huge and ongoing impact on the music of country music’s favorite beach bum Kenny Chesney. But his latest effort, Life On a Rock, takes it a step further, going beyond than the surface-level island party vibe so familiar to his fans and more toward a place of personal reflection and inspiration.
With this album dropping less than a year after Chesney’s highly successful Welcome to the Fishbowl, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two records; and let me just say that in more ways than one, Life On a Rock is worlds apart from Fishbowl—all in good ways. In my review of the last record, I pointed out that the track list was jarring to me, swinging wildly between sunshine and darkness. I also pointed out that while many of the songs were reflective, Chesney still felt a guarded and impersonal in his delivery.
All of that is gone in the new record; let’s just say island living seems to be mighty good for Kenny Chesney. Life On a Rock has a much more consistent feel, both in theme and in content—a much more balanced experience. Furthermore, Chesney penned or contributed to eight of the ten songs on this record, and as a result has created one of the most personal albums of his career.
Lest anyone misunderstand–there’s enough party vibe on this record to scratch the itch of Chesney fans who love those kinds of songs. Opening track “Pirate Flag” is a rockin’ feel-good anthem that is destined to be one of his best hits, and the title track isn’t far behind. But Chesney digs much deeper on other tracks like “When I See This Bar,” in which he celebrates times with island friends who don’t necessarily see him as a country star; “It’s That Time of Day,” reflecting on a calm sea at the day’s end; and “Must Be Something I Missed,” which describes the hectic lifestyle of “I don’t call it living, I just exist”, which is likely one of the reasons the laid-back island life is so appealing to Chesney, and why he feels he needs it. Throughout the record, of course, the island vibe prevails, from the presence of steel drums (“Must Be Something I Missed”) to all-out reggae (“Spread the Love”, feat. The Wailers with Elan) to a song about coconuts (with the incomparable Willie Nelson). And all of it comes together in a well-produced, well-organized record that is more of an experience than a simple collection of songs.
We all know that Kenny Chesney loves the island life; with Life On a Rock, like never before, this time he brings his listeners into his experience, helps us understand why he loves it, and helps us love it, too. For that reason, this is one of the most personally satisfying records I’ve heard from Chesney in some time. Maybe I should start pricing flights to the Virgin Islands.