by John Tarpley
He is, by anybody's count, one of the biggest country singers to twang his way to CMT-era superstardom. He's the voice behind 18 singles and nine albums to reach the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs charts, one of the biggest touring names in music, period. Huge achievements all, no doubt. But with the personality-driven world of Walmart-country choked with faux authenticity, Kenny Chesney is just about the only one of his caliber who actually comes across as the "regular dude" he's branded to be. That, combined with the fact that he's an embodiment of the "hardscrabble singer turns huge" storybook tale, makes him even more endearing. Not bad for a guy who grew up in a pop. 900 town under the shadow of local hero Chet Atkins.
The music? Well, he's no Brad Paisley. His discography is freckled with songs that became punchlines and even sputtered on the country charts. But for every "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," Chesney can unload a melodic, gorgeous track like his recent "Somewhere With You," a smart, inspired track with hooks rooted in Elton John, melodies from Rod Stewart's finer handbooks and a moody air akin to "Need You Now," Lady Antebellum's Grammy-sweeping 2010 single.
He's joined by Billy Currington, who returns to Arkansas for his third time in less than a year, and Uncle Kracker, the PG-rated Kid Rock whose own story, which takes him from rap-rock to family-friendly country, is one of the strangest in recent memory.