I've got to get this out of my system or it'll just fester

If Joanna took Beta to task for blogging about Randy Newman, she's going to have my head for this one. Regardless, since she's on vacation, and since Chesney's entire album is about such escapes, this song is dedicated to her. I'll be back with my regularly scheduled esoterica next week.

Some country purists blasted Chesney's latest effort for its easy-listening Jimmy Buffetism and thematic repetition, but to a dabbler like me, it might be the perfect contemporary country album. His voice is rich and resonant, imbued with the mildest of twangs, as patient and timeless as the shoreline to which it always returns. Barring the unfortunately Carribean-flavored "Guitars and Tiki Bars", his band forgoes island kitsch for simple, serviceable pop-country, more rumanitive than rollicking, better suited to an intimate beach campfire than to a tequila-soaked luau. Over the course of 13 songs, Chesney constructs a worldview that's at once jaded and appreciative, brimming with restless introspection and sangfroid, and the thematic repetition is part of what makes this album such a cool, soothing palmstroke on the brow.

Here are songs of escape from the workaday grind, which, in Chesney's world, means arena tours and studio time. Here are songs about locating peace in familiarity, and familiarity in strange, far-flung islands. The protagonist who feels trapped in his or her life is a common theme in modern storytelling, but in our cynical age, escape often proves unattainable: Home is a trap, and real life is always waiting somewhere "out there." But "out there" is a constantly shifting location, always over the next ridge, and home ties are shackles, not moorings. Chesney flips the script - he, by proxy or autobiographically, is always trying to escape from out-there, longing for the real life that occurs at home, be it literal, or whatever remote island outpost promises the possibility of creating the circumstances - simplicity, a relaxed vibe, anonymity, and good folks - one might call home.

In song after song, Chesney and his proxies dismantle their hectic lives in search of peace, and, contrary to popular trends, they actually find it, encapsulating a miniature redemption in each weary narrative. Boo to celebrities who bitch about the perils of stardom, and boo to superstars working the regular Joe angle. But yay to Chesney for approaching these subjects with humility and tact. Chesney is introspective enough that you kind of buy the regular Joe schtick, and what homespun Joe wouldn't feel a bit uncomfortable spending months on the road, under the glare of spotlights and media attention? "I've read a lot of books / Wrote a few songs / Looked at my life, where it's going, where it's gone / I've seen the world through a bus windshield / But nothing compares to the way that I see it / When I sit in that old blue chair", he sang on his hit single. Nothing too poor-me, nothing too self-aggrandizing, just an acknowledgment of the value of a fixed point in a mutable world, where you might get a handle on the shape of your life.

As popular music plunges further and further in the garish mirror-world of celebrity culture, Chesney's mythologizing of the "real" things in life - a cold drink, a bartender who knows your name, "a little bit of sun on my skin, a hammock and book" - is palliative. On "Be As You Are", Chesney, as usual, has "had it up to here with this rat race," and over appropriately sentimental teardrops of guitar, he longs to "go where I can lighten up the load", a mundane utopia where "ambition fades with every wave," and what remains is unadulterated selfhood.