Kenny Chesney, "Life on a Rock" (Columbia Nashville)
To hear Chesney tell it, this disc is a placeholder between the sort of albums that made him one of the biggest country stars of the first decade of the 2000s, albums filled with churning Americana rock and lilting country-beach-bum anthems.
This album's single, the lumpy and cheerful "Pirate Flag," sounds as though it could have belonged to any Chesney album of the past few years and is one of two songs on this album on which he has no writing credit. "Pirate Flag" has a pulse, unlike much of the rest of this album, written by Chesney, who is partial to long walks on the beach, acoustic ballads, nonlinear storytelling and lines that don't always rhyme. The results are mostly dismal.
Partnering with pro songwriters helps, such as on the tense and whimsical "Must Be Something I Missed." But left on his own, Chesney veers uncomfortably maudlin on "Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)"; dabbles in reggae on "Spread the Love," featuring the Wailers, and titles a song "Marley," name-checking several Bob Marley songs over steel drums. The bar Chesney reminisces about on "When I See This Bar" sounds far less interesting than the one in Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar." And "Lindy" is an accidentally condescending song about a seemingly homeless person.
Chesney plays July 12 at Target Field in Minneapolis.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
LL Cool J, "Authentic" (429)
Somewhere between Grammy hosting duties, starring on a hit CBS cop drama and thwarting home burglars, LL Cool J has completely lost touch with what launched him into superstardom: rapping. That startling disconnection is what bogs down his 13th album.
His first offering in nearly five years — and first not issued through longtime hip-hop powerhouse Def Jam — "Authentic" not only misses the mark, it doesn't even come close. While other aging rhymers like Jay-Z and Nas have evolved, this album sounds like an artist light years past a creative peak that helped establish the genre.
LL still shines when he's doing what he's known for: wooing the ladies. The R&B-tinged grooves ("Something About You," "New Love," "Between the Sheetz") are standouts, as are the '80s hip-hop flourishes on "We Came to Party" and "Whaddup." But those few moments are sandwiched between forgettable tracks that desperately reach for a hybrid of rap, pop and rock. It could work if the material were interesting enough.
Even worse, he allows himself to get lost amid a parade of guests including Fitz and the Tantrums, Eddie Van Halen, Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins, Travis Barker, Chuck D, Tom Morello and Brad Paisley. Some of his collaborators elevate the material, and others make you wish they'd done the track themselves.
LL Cool J performs May 30 at Target Center with Public Enemy and De La Soul.
Gerrick Kennedy, Los Angeles Times