My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review – Kenny Chesney – ‘El Cerrito Place’

There’ve essentially been two Kenny Chesneys of late – the artistic mastermind (“You and Tequila,” “Somewhere With You”) and the commercial lightweight (“Live A Little,” “Feel Like A Rock Star”) with each coexisting somewhat seamlessly amongst each other. After three singles categorized as lightweight, it was time for his artistic side to rear its head. But when I heard said single was Keith Gattis’ “El Cerrito Place” I was nervous.

I’ve been a big fan of Charlie Robison’s 2004 reading, with Natalie Maines providing gorgeous backing vocals. Their voices melt together like a pure Texas dream, while the production smartly stays out-of-the-way allowing both to shine. More importantly there’s grit in Robison’s voice that allows him to convey the nuances in the story so that you believe him as the song’s protagonist.

But after ten years of stadium tours and album after album of odes to beachfront life, Chesney has lost the sense of how to appropriately covey a song like this. He sounds completely foreign singing in his lower register, like a comedic actor trying to show dramatic range. He finally morphs into the Kenny Chesney we’re all familiar with by the first chorus, but Buddy Cannon frames him with a bombastic production that turns “El Cerrito Place” into the typical generic single, not the emotionally wrought tale it was in Robison’s capable hands. Even the female backing vocals, reuniting Chesney with his “You and Tequila” partner Grace Potter, are lost in the sea of sound.

It’s all a shame because Gattis’ song is wonderful, and I was so looking forward to Chesney turning in a killer recording that would help to elevate the standards of country radio for the time it was in heavy rotation, in much the same way Tim McGraw and Faith Hill did with “Angry All The Time” in 2001. He’s shown he’s fully capable of turning in phenomenal performances on this type of emotionally wrought material in the past, but I guess those days are firmly in the rearview mirror.

Grade: C+ 

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