Just Who I Am:
Poets & Pirates
- Buy the CD
Reviewed by Red Rocker
or a guy who’s neither married nor has any (known) kids, Kenny Chesney sure can pontificate with the best of ‘em on both topics. His 10-minute, only-in-Hollywood marriage to Renee Zellweger firmly in the rear-view mirror, Chesney plods on with 11 new songs, wrapped in the typical Jimmy Buffet shell (with a title like Poets & Pirates, he’s no longer even attempting to disguise a Buffett coup d'état). What sets Just Who I Am apart from the nine albums in 13 years he’s released prior (not counting the greatest hits or obligatory Christmas album) is the absence of a single Chesney songwriting credit. Yes, it seems he’s finally let go of the creative reins altogether and settled for being the biggest entertainer in country music – arguably in all of American music.
Trouble is, Just Who I Am doesn’t come off as well as No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems or When the Sun Goes Down, and creatively it doesn’t hold a candle to the sparse acoustic arrangements (penned chiefly by Chesney) that make up Be as You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair). Oh sure, the first single, “Never Wanted Nothing More,” and cliché-ridden sing-a-long “Just Not Today” will keep the label execs and CMT viewers happy. His collaborations here are equally fun and well-thought. “Shiftwork” is a groovy little calypso stroll (think Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”) with George Strait on shared vocal, and the super-charged “Wild Ride” is a rework of Dwight Yoakam’s original that finds Joe Walsh wailing on the wah-wah pedal, reminiscent of “Life in the Fast Lane” meets “You Give Love a Bad Name.” “Don’t Blink” is one of the best Chesney ballads ever, a real bell-ringer with anyone who fears that “when the hourglass runs out of sand, you can’t flip it over and start again.”
There’s noticeably more filler here than on the last three Chesney albums. “Scare Me” and “Demons” are appropriately placed dead last in the track listing, while “Dancin’ for the Groceries” is a silly ode to the single-mom stripper who is “dancin’ for the braces so kids can have a perfect smile someday.” As the perennial CMT Entertainer of the Year enters his 40s and the twilight of a wildly successful career, it’s clear he’s reached the fork in the road where he must choose between life as a singer-songwriter or that of a non-stop touring and promotion machine. Only Buffett could do both well.