Texas native Mark Chesnutt is one of those guys who hit Nashville feelin' all honky-tonk, and then made his peace with the world of syrupy ballads. But don't let the sappy stuff scare you off -- this guy can really sing, and when he gets into a beer-drinkin', rowdy-guy mode, Chesnutt can blow the top off the place. Like many Nashvillers, he started off neo-trad, then got more pop... But all along he's kept his red-dirt roots showing. Here's a quick look at his work.




Discography

Mark Chesnutt "Doing My Country Thing" (AXBAR, 1990)
(Produced by Joe Scates)

I'm not exactly sure what the provenance of this album is, but I think it's Chesnutt's indie demo/debut from the early '90s, recorded in San Antonio when he was still slugging it out in the indie scene... The CD version I heard sounded like the tape was dragging slightly (notes slur and slide out of tune...) but regardless of the poor transfer, it's an impressive set of hard country heartbreak and drinkin' songs... Worth keeping in mind when listening to the sappy stuff he made in years to come...!


Mark Chesnutt "Too Cold At Home" (MCA, 1990)
(Produced by Mark Wright)


Mark Chesnutt "Longnecks And Short Stories" (MCA, 1992)
(Produced by Mark Wright)

Dang. This guy's really good. Giving George Strait and Clint Black a real run for their money in the neotrad honkytonk hero category, Chesnutt pounds out another fine set of hard country weepers. A couple of tunes, such as the big hit, "I'll Think Of Something," have unfortunate over-arrangements, but with songs like "Uptown Downtown," "It's Not Over" and "I'm Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes" to back it up, who can complain? Chesnutt's the real deal. Even prefab redneck anthems like "Bubba Shot The Jukebox" may be kinda dorky, but still sound good, in a "Little Junior" kinda way. This is a record you need to track down in order to get ahold of the outstanding non-hit album tracks that aren't likely to ever make it onto a best-of package anytime soon. Recommended.


Mark Chesnutt "Almost Goodbye" (MCA, 1993)
(Produced by Mark Wright)

Generally tilts a bit towards an overproduced vibe, but he still has such a great singing voice, that he can still come through despite formulaic arrangements. They blow a few songs, like "Texas Is Bigger Than It Used To Be," which starts out great, but then falls apart under the weight of some goddawful, shrill electric guitar solo; "It Sure Is Monday" and "My Heart's Too Broke (To Pay Attention)" more than make up for it, and "Till A Better Memory Comes Along" is a really stunning ballad. The rest of the album seems fairly forgettable, though the closer, "The Will," is a grand cornball recitation, in the classic Porter Wagoner style. A half-okay, better than average album.


Mark Chesnutt "What A Way To Live" (MCA, 1994)


Mark Chesnutt "Wings" (MCA, 1995)


Mark Chesnutt "Thank God For Believers" (MCA, 1997)
(Produced by Mark Wright)

This starts out a little shaky, with some super-sappy (but still effective) ballads, and increasingly formulaic uptempo toe-tappers... Then the album really gathers steam, with a second half packed with surprisingly solid, heartfelt tunes. The title track, a sentimental "mama tried" song, is a pretty good weeper, but it's heartsongs like "That Side Of You" and "Any Ole Reason" that are the real heart of this disc. This album had a pretty weak showing on the charts, but it definitely has its moments; for a true country fan, this one's a nice sleeper -- one ya might want to check out.


Mark Chesnutt "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" (Decca, 1999)
(Produced by Mark Wright)

Chesnutt's sixth album... Overproduced, mauldlin country uber-pop, with predictable power ballads and sappy lyrics galore, and teensy hints of western swing and neutered Southern rock. Generally speaking, Chesnutt has been quite capable at pulling superior performances out of even the most strained material... but on this album they're really pushing it. "My Way Back Home," an upbeat good-old-boy shuffler about a guy whose gal drives off with the mobile home when he's out on a bender, is one of the least pretentious, most effective tunes on here, and the western-swing styled "That's The Way You Make An Ex" is pretty fun, too... Mostly, though, it's softed-edged, syrupy material, but with a couple of so-so honkytonk tunes to mollify old farts like me. Snoozy, but okay as background music, I suppose.


Mark Chesnutt "Lost In The Feeling" (MCA, 2000)
(Produced by Mark Wright & Marty Stuart)

Mixing some yuppie-R&B horn charts into the mix, Chesnutt produces a reasonably vigorous -- if extremely formulaic -- pop-country set. The production is sympathetic insofar as it frames his vocals nicely, and even with the windchimes and swelling string arrangements, it seldom overshadows his voice, or the lyrics themselves. But it is all a bit much; too syrupy, soul singer-y and prefab for me. Nice pedal steel, though, and a trio of tunes by Shawn Camp, which may raise an eyebrow in certain quarters... I guess if you like the super-overproduced Nashville sound, this is a good one. Sort of.


Mark Chesnutt "Mark Chesnutt" (Sony, 2002)
(Produced by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.)

He switched labels over from MCA, but the shift in direction was towards more goopy, ornate pop production, rather than a back-to-basics move. The singles were pretty sappy, and so were the album tracks. The strongest hit on here was "She Was," a super-duper weeper about a dying mother; other songs have interesting lyrics, but the music is resolutely tacky. Doesn't really work for me; even the songs I liked the first time around don't hold up listening again a few years later.


Mark Chesnutt "Savin' The Honky Tonk" (Vivaton, 2004)
(Produced by Jimmy Ritchey)

Plenty of Nashville hat-act stars make a big deal about "keeping it country," which these days usually just means turning the volume on the drum machines and synthesizers down a notch or two... But Texas honkytonker Mark Chesnutt comes across with the real deal on this disc, a grand, glorious set of pedal steel and fiddle-drenched, gosh-honest, hard country music... This is an album worthy of John Anderson, back in his prime, or heck -- even of Chesnutt, when he was starting out over a decade ago... Back then, he was considered a potential heir to the honkytonk throne, a solid singer in the tradition of George Jones and Ray Price... Of course, he's had his fair share of slick pop hits since then, bit it's nice to see him coming back to his old original style. For fans of genuine, foot-stompin' honkytonk, this album is a real treat, a disc you can play from start to finish and even pound back a few brews and sing along to... Every tune on here is worth listing to, from his cover of Kevin Fowler's "Beer Bait & Ammo" to barroom gems like "Then We Can All Go Home" and "Don't Ruin It For The Rest Of Us..." This is a damn fine album... welcome back, Mark!


Mark Chesnutt "Heard It In A Love Song" (CBUJ Entertainment, 2006)
(Produced by Jimmy Ritchey & Mark Chesnutt)

Another fine, assured performance from one of modern country's most solid singers... This album isn't nearly as good as 2004's Savin' The Honky Tonk, but few albums are -- that was one helluva comeback record. But, having proved his point then, Chesnutt is free to kick back and record a bunch of old stuff he just happens to like, including an old Marshall Chapman tune (the title track), a Waylon Jennings oldie, Hank Senior's "Lost Highway" a Hank Junior song and some alternate versions of stuff from Savin' The Honky Tonk, all of which are as resonant here as they were the first time around. "That Good That Bad" is a rollicking, fun novelty song, though it's the slow, shuffling weepers like "A Shoulder To Cry On" and "Goodbye Comes Hard For Me" that really sold me on this disc... Singing in such a relaxed, super-mellow mode, Chesnutt evokes George Jones at his best... heck, he even covers ol' Possum on here, as well ("A Day In The Life Of A Fool"). This is a nice one... definitely worth checking out!


Mark Chesnutt "Rollin' With The Flow" (Lofton Creek, 2008)
(Produced by Jimmy Ritchey)

There's a neat side-effect of Nashville's current trend towards older established artists recording for smaller indie labels -- it gives us a chance to hear the kind of music they prefer to play when relieved of the marketing pressure that comes with a major label deal. Some artists, like Gene Watson, go whole-hog into hard-country territory, while others fall back on softer production styles, sometimes also playing in out-of-date styles that suit their strengths ('80s-style synth ballads, for example...) What's interesting about Mark Chesnutt's latest album is that, instead of cutting loose with the hardcore honkytonk (as he did on 2004's Savin' The Honky Tonk album, which did really well on the charts), Chesnutt instead goes for the soft stuff, playing an elegant set of early 1990's-style romantic ballads, with a dash of rowdiness thrown in for good measure. For example, the superb opening track, "Things To Do In Wichita," sounds for all the world like a George Strait chart-topper circa 1991, and I mean that in a good way. The rest of the album follows suit, with one well-crafted top-country tune after another. Folks who were expecting a do-over of Savin' The Honky Tonk might want something a little faster and more uptempo, but anyone who's been a Chesnutt fan all along will recognize his attention to detail and quality workmanship. Worth checking out, if you're a commercial country fan.


Mark Chesnutt "Outlaw" (Saguaro Road, 2010)
(Produced by Pete Anderson)

Mark Chesnutt covering a bunch of "outlaw" oldies from Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, Hank Junior, and Guy Clark? Dude, I am so there! Naturally, all of the original artists are hard acts to follow, and it's a challenge for Chesnutt to put his own stamp on these old tunes, but when the day is done this is a swell set of hard-country anthems, robustly sung, with fun, crisp production by Pete Anderson. It's fun to hear him sink his teeth into classics like "Whiskey Bent And Hell Bound," "Black Rose," and "Need A Little Time Off (For Bad Behavior)" There are also a few non-hit tunes on here, like Waylon's "Freedom To Stay," which show Chesnutt digging a little deeper into the well. Newcomer Amber Digby provides a very Jessi Colter-like harmony on "Couple More Years," with Chesnutt rumbling in a low, gruff register, summoning the spirits of the elders. I love this stuff, and clearly he does, too. A great record to play good and loud after you've had a beer or two.




Best-Ofs

Mark Chesnutt "Greatest Hits" (MCA/Decca, 1996)
(Produced by Mark Wright)

So far so good. Leaves a few great country ballads off, but really, his hits were pretty darn good. Recommended, if you don't want to take the time to check out the individual albums.


Mark Chesnutt "The Millennium Collection" (MCA, 2001)




A Mark Chesnutt MP3 Playlist

1992 - Uptown Downtown
1992 - It's Not Over
1992 - I'm Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes
1993 - It Sure Is Monday
1993 - My Heart's Too Broke (To Pay Attention)
1993 - Till A Better Memory Comes Along
1997 - Any Ole Reason
1997 - That Side Of You
1999 - That's The Way You Make An Ex
1999 - My Way Back Home
2004 - Since You Ain't Home
2004 - Somebody Save The Honky Tonks
2004 - I'm A Saint
2004 - Then We Can All Go Home
2004 - Beer Bait & Ammo
2004 - Don't Ruin It For The Rest Of Us
2006 - A Shoulder To Cry On
2006 - Goodbye Comes Hard For Me
2008 - Things To Do In Wichita




Links

  • Ah, good old Wikipedia! Is there no wisdom you do not contain?





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