Is a reductive engagement with social issues worse than no engagement at all? That was the question raised by "Accidental Racist," Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's astonishingly simple-minded meditation on American race relations. Many critics assailed the song for handling its topic as a (white) child might. But others offered cautious praise for the song's willingness to address race at all, a perceived rarity in country music.
Now Kenny Chesney is raising the question again (albeit in characteristically lower-key fashion) with "Lindy," from his new album, "Life on a Rock." A gentle acoustic shuffle, the song sketches its title character, who strolls around town "pick[ing] up pennies," "tak[ing] cigarettes from strangers" and "play[ing] piano at the church when nobody's watching."
So with his "calloused feet" and his habit of "talking to himself," Lindy appears to be a homeless man.
But the song doesn't actually say anything substantive about Lindy; its take-away has to do with Chesney and his exceptional sensitivity.
As with Paisley, who notwithstanding "Accidental Racist" might be Nashville's sharpest tunesmith, Chesney's tone-deafness here seems especially egregious because it's surrounded by smarter material.
Chesney wrote or co-wrote eight of the 10 songs on the album, including the reflective "It's That Time of Day" and "Must Be Something I Missed," a wry examination of need that contains this Randy Newman-grade couplet: "I wake up in the morning just making a fist / I don't call it living, I just exist."
Even "Coconut Tree," a dopey duet with Willie Nelson, offers the charming picture of Nelson "shimmy[ing] up and shak[ing] the good ones down." Too bad he didn't persuade Chesney to shake off "Lindy."
"Life On a Rock"
(Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville)
Two stars (out of four)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times