Kenny Chesney’s ‘Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates’ Turns 5
Looking back, ‘Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates’ finds Kenny Chesney beginning a difficult transition from idolized arena country-rock superstar to the more introspective singer-songwriter he is today. The album includes three No. 1 singles and the cheeky ‘Shiftwork’ with George Strait, which peaked at No. 2. ‘Don’t Blink’ is undeniably the signature song on this Chesney album, released on Sept. 11, 2007.
The fact that Chesney didn’t help write any of the 11 tracks on this album surprised critics, who questioned how the selections could truly be just ‘who he is.’ A deeper look reveals the title to be more honest, even if no references to poets or pirates are explicitly made. ‘Don’t Blink’ and ‘Better as a Memory’ feel genuine, and ‘Wild Ride’ (with Joe Walsh) filled the need for a new live song to play at concerts. Others, like ‘Dancin’ for the Groceries,’ raised eyebrows with a lyric about a woman who strips for money to feed her kids. “In sequins and laces / she’s dancing for braces,” he sings.
‘Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates’ found one million fans, but that was a significant dip from the triple-platinum ‘The Road and the Radio.’ The 2008 follow-up, ‘Lucky Old Sun,’ would only go gold, but by 2010, Chesney’s transition was complete. He emerged a reborn and confident friend to songwriters with nourishing new ideas for ‘Hemingway’s Whiskey’ — and most recently — ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl.’
A long career is going to have peaks and valleys. The ‘Just Who I Am’ effort was mostly praised (low end reviews gave it three of five stars), and singles like ‘Never Wanted Nothing More’ have held up. It’s not the first album a new fan should begin with, however.