The O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack is the most astounding country chart-topper since Garth Brooks hid his fern-bar roots with cowboy boots in the early '90s. Alan Jackson's Drive is a throwback to the earnest, manly songs of the neotraditional cowboys who reigned before Garth. And Kenny Chesney's seventh album, which has been battling Drive and O Brother for the top of the charts since late April, is a model of what country music has become: middle-of-the-road women's music, powered by a little classic rock and a lot of romantic fantasy.
Those outside Chesney's target demographic might snicker at the calculation in the string of slow-to-midtempo ballads about upright men who either treat their women like queens or regret it when they don't. But that overlooks how skillfully at least a few of these fantasies are turned (any country traditionalist, neo or otherwise, would kill for a weeper like Chesney's "A Lot of Things Different") and how smoothly this heartthrob has mellowed since "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." Now if he'd only can that Journey-lovin' guitar player.