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Chesney leads a show you don't hear every day

Royale, Boston, August 25, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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This was not your typical Kenny Chesney outing. Far from it - if you want to see that, head to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. for the closing two nights of his Goin' Coastal tour.

On this night, not only was Chesney playing a tiny house in comparison (maybe 1,000 people), but he was also joined by five comrades in pen - songwriters - as part of the CMA Songwriters Series making its first visit ever to Boston.

These are the folks who tend to be behind the scenes for a few reasons - some never quite made it as performing artists, while others don't have the package to make it happen as an artist.

What the audience was treated to was an engaging, entertaining good, old-fashioned guitar pull. Sort of emceed by Bob DiPiero, the show also included Chesney, Matraca Berg, Craig Wiseman, Wendell Mobley and Brett James. Chances are the audience barely knew any of the people onstage (except obviously for the main attraction), but they sure did by the end of the night.

DiPiero led off the 2 -hour show, which has typically been held in New York City, with If You Ever Stop Loving Me, a hit for Montgomery Gentry. From the get go, it was easy to see why Chesney is a superstar, and DiPiero is not. He obviously has strength as a writer, but he was not the greatest singer going. The same could have been said for Wiseman, who was the most engaging and lively performer up there, and Mobley to a lesser extent.

Of course, that didn't mean anything about the quality of the songs - it's just when you hear Chesney chime in with stanzas here and there of the songs offered by the writers, it was quite clear that Chesney was head and shoulders above them.

Berg has long enjoyed a dual career as a recording artist in her own right and a writer, showing she was capable of handling both chores with her first song Wrong Side of Memphis, a hit for Trisha Yearwood. As she would later on during the night, Berg blew a bit of harp, spicing up the song. Berg also was one of the pens behind Chesney's current hit You And Tequila.\ But Berg also had trouble hitting the high notes on a few songs.

Wiseman was by far the biggest personality on stage. The Mississippi native doesn't have the greatest voice - it was soulful, but certainly was no match for the real singers on stage - but he brought a lot of energy to the proceedings, particularly in closing the evening with the look at "what have I done with my life" Live Like You Were Dyin', made famous by Tim McGraw. Wiseman also told the story of Summertime, a hit for Chesney, who gave the writer the feedback that having a song with the words "tutti frutti time" in it would not work. Devil may care because Wiseman sang it like he wrote it.

Mobley has enjoyed success thanks to country popsters Rascal Flatts, and offered Take Me There and I Melt from his catalogue. Turns out that Chesney helped write the former song.

James owned the second best voice on stage this evening. It's a firm voice that takes charge of the songs - once upon a time, he did have a career as a singer, but he never did much. In fact, he told the story of a label executive calling him with some good and bad news. The good news was that Chesney had cut one of his songs , and the bad news was that he was dropped from the label.

Sporting a Red Sox hat in Beantown, Chesney was talkative and easy going in explaining how particular songs evolved, including several written with his stage compadres. In fact, it seemed that most of the songs performed had a direct link to Chesney As the night wore on, the emphasis clearly was on Chesney and his wealth of songs. That meant Wiseman singing Gone and Young, Mobley doing How Forever Feels and James turning in When the Sun Goes Down with Chesney telling a humorous story of how Uncle Kracker came to sing on the song.

The focus may have been on Chesney, but he was not a stage hog. He made it clear that he admired those on stage with him - "it's not the kind of song you hear every day," Chesney said, for example, of Mobley's There Goes My Life.

This also was not the kind of concert you hear every day either. For the big staging and effects, Chesney can do that also, but on this night, the songwriters in all of them took over for an atypical, but heartfelt and fun night of music.