The Virtuous And The Vapid

Mainstream Nashville labels and their major artists have two primary concerns — radio and retail — with artistic achievement coming in a distant third.

In many ways, Kenny Chesney — and by direct extension his Greatest Hits album — is exemplary of this sad state of affairs. Though Chesney is capable of, on one hand, recording an admirable, decent and melodic song like "That's Why I'm Here," he's also capable of absolute dreck, as witnessed by "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" (RealAudio excerpt). In the best traditions of country story telling, "That's Why I'm Here" is a tale of a recovering alcoholic. Meanwhile, "Tractor" is the audio equivalent of cotton candy. And so it goes, with this battle between the virtuous and the vapid running throughout Greatest Hits.

Sadly, a lightweight ditty like "How Forever Feels" ("Now I know how Jimmy Buffett feels") will probably carry more weight in the world of radio and retail than another lesser known, much better song — "Baptism" (RealAudio excerpt) — a gentle tale of rural childhood memories (with Randy Travis on guest vocals).

Ultimately, Greatest Hits paints Chesney as a talented young singer with a pleasant voice who's unable to escape the confines of the all-important considerations of radio and retail. One of four new songs on this 17-cut disc, bears that out: "I Lost It" (RealAudio excerpt) is an eminently forgettable power ballad. Of course, it's the single.