Kenny Chesney is cheery, fun, and polished as brash on "Hemingway's Whiskey."
By now his decidedly laid-back, beach bum, everyman persona has so cemented itself into public consciousness that it's sometimes difficult to figure out whether he's intentionally singing songs that cater to that image or vice/versa.
Fortunately, that matters little when the song selections are generally solid and Chesney in fine voice, displaying great, fun-loving enthusiasm and charismatically pumping life into material that would sound mediocre in the hands of a lesser talent.
He sounds recharged after taking time off the road, even though he only contributes one tune - the fun but unremarkable "Reality," a slightly overproduced but otherwise fine swashbuckler.
A great addition to the record is a larger than usual helping of slower, more thoughtful tunes. "Where I Grew Up," for one, is a coming-of-age tale that asks the perennial question - where did all the time go? - with cool, matter-of-fact elegance. Chesney avoids sap and cliche with his rich, heartfelt reading of the lyrics. As he does with the majority of the tracks here, he gives it sincerity and punch.
The ponderous, absolutely gorgeous "You and Tequila," a duet with the greatly talented Grace Potter, has major hit potential with its theme of near-torturous passion. Their voices mix together in a match that is heaven-made and endlessly listenable. Their inspired delivery gives the song a burnished ache.
Louder, amped up songs balance out the slower material. "Coastal" has some corny lyrics, but Chesney manages to infect the song with his platinum-selling charm. The same goes for the take-no-prisoners "Live a Little," which moves unstoppably with heavy electric guitars upfront in the mix. "The Boys of Fall," the album's lead single (his latest #1 country hit, #18 pop), boasts some of Chesney's best vocals of his career with a solid, catchy melody.
"Small, Y'all," a duet with George Jones, while not one of the best tunes on the album, is notable as a duet between these two formidable figures in country music. The elegiac, restrained title track provides a smooth finish.
"Hemingway's Whiskey" is a fast-moving collection of tunes that Chesney's core fan base will certainly enjoy. He has never been one for serious country, and this record is no different, but it has more than enough catchy melodies and impassioned crooning to earn its place on the shelf.