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Kenny Chesney, ‘El Cerrito Place’ – Song Review

El Cerrito Place
Blue Chair / Columbia

‘El Cerrito Place’ is the signature song on Kenny Chesney‘s new ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl’ album. Its release as a single makes certain the direction the singer has chosen for his future. Stadium anthems may be yesterday’s news, replaced by revealing ballads that can be uncomfortable to listen to for the very first time.

That discomfort speaks to how successful Chesney is at delivering what might be the most emotional performance of his career. It’s clear he’s falling back on his own experiences as he tells the story of a man looking for his love and maybe his soul. Listeners are brought right into his pain and yearning, even without the 35-second instrumental introduction from the album. Credit Chesney for this, as the lyrics don’t get good until what one could call the pre-chorus.

And all these pretty people up on El Cerrito Place / They all got somethin’ in their pockets, all got somethin’ on their face / They roll down to La Brea where it meets the boulevard / Singing hallelujah while they dance over the stars,” he sings.

This song has a long history in Nashville, as it’s been previously recorded by Charlie Robison and Keith Gattis (Robison released it as a single in 2004). There was no doubt some pressure on Chesney to do the songwriter (Gattis) — and by extension, the songwriting community — proud.

On paper, the chorus doesn’t look like much, but with the right expression it leaps from the speakers and burrows into any holes in one’s heart. Grace Potter returns to help Chesney through the chorus. Her singing is especially valuable toward the end of the five-minute long song, during a verse that begins with:

“Somehow I wound up in the desert just after daylight / Where the Joshua trees grow that little place you always liked.” The cold desert breeze almost chills your skin when she reaches for her high note and nails it.

I’m still lookin’ for you baby, I’ve been lookin’ for you baby / I’ve been lookin’ for you baby, I’ve been lookin’ for you baby / All night long / All night long, all night long,” Chesney adds during the final chorus.

Chesney chooses louder production than any of the previous singers of this song, but his voice is more than sturdy enough to match the intensity. He lacks a little contempt for the people of El Cerrito Place (an area just north of Hollywood Blvd. in California), but has no trouble matching the hurt. That’s really what we’re to remember from this song, anyway.

4.5 Stars

Listen to Kenny Chesney, ‘El Cerrito Place’

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