Kenny Chesney

Be as You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair)

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Conventional wisdom dictates that the Caribbean Islands are where you go to relax, not work, but not for Kenny Chesney. The Tennessee native found his muse on the islands, and it changed his life and work. He started his career as a good, if unremarkable, neo-traditionalist singer, but he slowly built his own identity as a singer and songwriter, largely due to the time he spent in the islands, a love that he celebrated in his music and interviews. Not since Jimmy Buffett has a musician been so thoroughly identified with the life of a beach bum, but there is a big difference between the two. Buffett happily creates a soundtrack to a never-ending party, coasting a combination of good times and easy grooves and while Chesney certainly does indulge in this ingratiatingly lazy vibe, he also finds the islands as a place for introspection, and nowhere is that more evident than on his eighth album, 2005's Be as You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair). This is the companion piece to the breezy, bright modern country of 2004's When the Sun Goes Down, a relaxed, low-key collection of ballads and easy-rolling pop tunes that strikes precisely the right contemplative note, as if it were designed to be played during a picturesque ocean sunset. Which isn't to say that Be as You Are is a confessional album, or even a collection of overly introspective songs. There are autobiographical details threaded throughout the record, particularly on the opener, "Old Blue Chair," but the songs are open-ended, so listeners can identify with the narrator, or they're nice, mellow party tunes like "Key Lime Pie" or slow dance numbers like "Magic." It's a quiet record, but hardly an album that features Chesney alone with his guitar. Be as You Are is as polished and professional as When the Sun Goes Down, yet it's designed for quiet afternoons, not parties on the weekend. To Chesney's credit, he's as appealing on this set of relaxed tunes as he was on its gleaming, ultramodern predecessor, and taken together, they are strong proof that he's one of best singers and songwriters working in contemporary country music in the mid-2000s.

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