"The Road and the Radio"
* * 1/2
It's safe to say that this country heartthrob broke a lot of hearts when he married actress Renee Zellweger in May. It's an equally good bet that all those hearts will be going out to him -- with an undercurrent of renewed hope -- after that union fizzled so quickly.
Chesney watchers understandably will be scouring his first album since his matrimonial train derailed for clues about what happened, especially in light of the curtain of official silence that followed the announcement of their split.
The album (which came out Tuesday) supplies some insights, but only in the most general terms. What Chesney delivers is an emotional road trip on which he alternately aims to escape the pain and then look for a few answers, and with any luck find a little solace.
It's a far more sobering work than his previous album, "Be as You Are," which outlined the many facets of a life spent lounging on a sunny Caribbean beach. This time, the sun's gone down, emotionally speaking. Songs course their way through the moods of someone whose life has to some extent spun out of control: "The way I've been goin' / It's time that I tone it down just a notch or two," he sings in "Fast Forward."
Although "Who'd You Be Today" is technically about the death of a loved one, it's no stretch to see why Chesney would identify with its expression of loss: "Sunny days seem to hurt the most / I wear the pain like a heavy coat / I feel you everywhere I go / I see your smile, I see your face.... Still can't believe you're gone."
"Beer in Mexico," one of two songs here that Chesney wrote, is his version of a Springsteen-meets-Buffett rocker, and generally the album's heartland-rock musical slant may help him expand his following beyond the core country crowd.
It would be myopic to suggest everything on "The Road" is directed toward his recent romantic Waterloo, and there's plenty here to offer comfort to any listeners who have been hurt or lost their way in life.
His tack is more earnest reflection than hard, deep soul-searching, but perhaps it's a fitting approach. After your ship is upended in a storm, the first thing to do is right it -- then you can worry about assessing the damage and figuring out where to go next.
-- Randy Lewis
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.