Kenny Chesney and Youssou N’Dour

Kenny Chesney – Cosmic Hallelujah

My sister was on my case a couple years ago for not giving him a chance, so I’ve spent the last three weeks exploring a catalog whose consistency indicates no cohesion, ideological or otherwise. Aesthetic cohesion, though – let him have it. “All the Pretty Girls” could’ve been written for 2002’s No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems; hell, he could’ve covered XTC’s “All You Pretty Girls” and made it taut. 2014’s The Big Revival sounded like its title; Cosmic Hallelujah can’t decide whether it’s a celebration or a wake. The confusion animates and retards “Rich and Miserable,” an anthem as shiny as a belt buckle whose will to bigness recalls one of those mid eighties Mekons covers but with an “Apprentice”-sized budget. Last week it was callow; after November 8 lines like “We climb a ladder but the ladder just grows” and “We’re too young to know what we want but we want it right now” are New York Times quotes in search of Macomb County sources. I bet you a beer that Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne wrote those verses while Florida Georgia Line/Billy Currington man Jesse Frasure handled the Friday night lights shit-kicking. Where is Chesney? Unable to reconcile the strands, game anyway, even on a better than I thought P!nk duet. He clocks in, clocks out, grabs a beer, maybe votes for Hillary.

Youssou N’Dour – Africa Rekk

The only way to have heard the music collected in 2002’s The Rough Guide to Youssou N’Dour & Étoile de Dakar during stagflation was if listeners had lived in the East Village, Dakar, Paris, or a college town with an exceptional record store. “Crunchy” is my descriptor of choice for Youssou N’Dour’s mbalax: an ever-kinetic hybrid of charanga , salsa, and harsh guitars with a voice as light as air and as keening as a call to prayer (“Afro-Cuban” isn’t marketing taxonomy after all). It repays the devotion and then some. A buoyant, sometimes dopey acoustic move like 2002’s Coono Du Réér (“English moralism and French chanson balancing off tama bursts and danceable homiletics” in Robert Christgau’s phrase), Africa Rekk is weakest when N’Dour has to contend with the English lyrics of “Forgiveness” (maybe) and the Akon-assisted “Conquer the World” (fat chance). With the synth textures of “Ban La” and “Bull Ko Door” reinforcing the grooves, N’Dour has come up with twelve dance-y tunes for late middle aged revelers: ideal wedding party music.

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