If you think the crispy fall temperatures need an antidote, Kenny Chesney is right on time with a new live set that even makes performances recorded in Massachusetts and New Jersey sound like island getaways.
The country superstar chronicles a decade of tours in the 29 songs (30, if you split up the medley near the end) in “Live in No Shoes Nation,” which proves to be pretty darned big over the course of two discs. It’s a broad chronicle from stadium anthems like “American Kids” and “Young” to intimate moments like a performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up” at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and the emotional finale, “Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi).”
While the shorthand on Chesney is often 21st century Jimmy Buffett – and a duet with the Coral Reefer Band’s Mac McAnally on “Down the Road” is entirely appropriate – this album illustrates why Chesney is one of the enduring marquee stars in country today. The ability to bring a stadium to its feet and also make it seem as intimate as a living room lies not just in talent, but also in connection with the audience, which Chesney has been forging for more than 20 years. There are times he lays the stage patter on a bit thick, but it never lacks sincerity.
There are a number of guest appearances, in addition to McAnally, starting with a fun Taylor Swift duet on “Big Star” from a 2015 show in Nashville and ending with Dave Matthews joining in on Steve Miller’s “The Joker” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” from a 2007 Atlanta concert. Grace Potter’s harmonies on “You and Tequila” from Red Rocks in Colorado is a sublime moment.
Now Atlanta, Nashville and Colorado all sound right for big country music shows. What is somewhat striking is that nearly a third of the cuts are from the New England Patriots’ stadium in Massachusetts, easily the most of any venue represented on the album, which also includes cuts from Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, to name a few. It’s a testament to the broad appeal Chesney has built outside traditional country boundaries, all while staying closer to what many would define as “country” than many of the genre’s chart toppers today.
Much more than just a concert album, “Live from No Shoes Nation” serves as a milestone record for the artist who – astonishingly – is just a few months from his 50th birthday. And it’s a great, sunny listen, even if you do like seasons.
Rich Copley, @copiousnotes