As the leader of what he’s dubbed “No Shoes Nation,” the laid-back country megastar Kenny Chesney doesn’t really need to release albums. His shows, including the sold-out gigs at Gillette Stadium that have become a summertime tradition, are already chock-full of tracks from a catalog that spans all the way back to 1994. He could probably please crowds just by continuing to run through his twang-tinged hits, which triangulate the beach, the heartland, and the road to create a space in country music that he owns pretty much free and clear.
But Chesney isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and his 17th album, “Cosmic Hallelujah,” bears that out. He’s still lyrically bemused, basking in the sunshine on the jangly “Trip Around the Sun,” which flips the bird at fears of the apocalypse, and crafting scenarios of escape on “Winnebago,” a love song both to another person and to the idea of getting away. And while the hat he sports on the cover of “Hallelujah” positions him as a country artist, he’s working from a wider sonic palette, one that incorporates ideas from the stadium-rockers with whom he shares dressing rooms and the rollicking Nashville bars that still loom large in country music’s imagination. Bringing the two ideas together results in some of the album’s best songs. “Noise,” which borrows its frantic riffing from U2, takes aim at the 24-hour world that’s “drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy that’s tryin’ to be heard”; the
honky-tonk grind “Bucket” has a playful chorus (“changed the ‘b’ to an ‘f’ ”) that should make it a getting-away-from-it-all anthem in the cold months where stadium shows seem far away.
“Hallelujah” also finds Chesney making what might be his most obvious plays for pop airplay since 2010, when his moody track “Somewhere With You” crossed over to adult-contemporary stations. “Coach,” a salute to the athletic leaders of Chesney’s youth, has arms-wide-open riffs that recall inspirational post-grunge anthems by Finger Eleven and Switchfoot. The midtempo “Setting the World on Fire,” with reverb-heavy guitars and propulsive chorus, features a cameo from Pink, in keeping with the recent trend of aisle-crossing duets between female pop stars and male country stars. (Powerhouse diva Demi Lovato and ax-slinger Brad Paisley paired up for the Nicks/Petty pastiche “Without a Fight”; bluesy torch singer Elle King and country everyman Dierks Bentley hooked up for the gender-politicking “Different for Girls.”) The match between Pink’s gritty rasp and Chesney’s smooth-sailing croon works on this sweet love song, which recalls a love affair where anything seemed possible — a liberation that’s key to Chesney’s charm, whether
onstage or on record.
ESSENTIAL: “Bucket”Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.