More Billy Joel fans in more harbor bars will hear Kenny Chesney’s album (which has better singing and drumming) than the Hold Steady’s (which has more words) this summer, so it’s appropriate that Kenny, too, deals with both topics: the former in a song where “Only the Good Die Young” and “Jack and Diane” remind him of dead buddies and 50-yard lines; the latter in a lovely end-of-August ’70s-Springsteen facsimile where “Cleveland” rhymes with “In the mornin’ I’m leavin’.” There’s also a staggeringly blurry-eyed hangover waltz; a restless marriage song recited like Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl”; the best hit since Bob Seger about a woman hitting the road with a man’s American Express; and a wonderfully sympathetic ballad about a ladder-climbing mom who’s a “gopher and a chauffeur and a company chairman.”
But most of the record pretty much is a harbor bar: old James Taylor words about Mexico (over riddims from Trinidad, like in all male country lately); suntanned Myrtle Beach clambake soul with hair-metal Mellencamp chords and Uncle Kracker playing Dobie Gray and Lambda Chi Alphas hitting on Kappa Deltas and catfish jumpin’ and cotton high and A1A cruises and pinball and skeeball and bare feet in the sand and kegs in the closet and pizza on the floor and dogs named Bocephus in the front yard. Alcohol figures very prominently, as do pianos. The perfect nostalgia party for a disappearing epoch of entitlement and invincibility: “Spring breaks down in Panama/For a while we had it all/We never dreamed it wouldn’t last.” Swing-voter music that swings.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 13, 2004