Riding the wave of country traditionalists that emerged in the late Eighties, Beaumont, Texas native Mark Chesnutt struck platinum with his 1990 MCA LP Too Cold At Home. The album spawned a Number One hit with “Brother Jukebox,” and Chesnutt’s subsequent releases found him covering tunes by Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Rich, Waylon Jennings, Don Gibson and Merle Haggard, among others.
On his 2016 LP Tradition Lives – his first full-length effort since 2008 – Chesnutt pays tribute to Haggard and to songwriter Red Lane with a cover of “There Won’t Be Another Now,” a relatively obscure album cut from Haggard’s 1985 LP Kern River. In the poignant video accompanying his release of the tune, Chesnutt remains unseen, singing the song’s touching lyrics as video and still images from throughout Haggard’s life are shown, from his hardscrabble upbringing and his time in prison to his award-winning country-music heyday.
The song’s provocative lyrics tell of the narrator’s deep, unspoken feelings he’s been able to address for someone he’s loved for a lifetime, with such lines as “Your eyes hold the secret and I like the look you’re using/ That certain look of innocence is fighting lust and losing.” But aside from the steamier aspects, the song is also a reminder that time is fleeting, that legends such as Haggard are rare and that the time to celebrate them is now, before it’s too late.
It’s a message Chesnutt can doubtless relate to because of his own experience in country music. In 1999, as Shania Twain, Faith Hill and others were blurring the lines between pop and country, Chesnutt was encouraged by his label to record a cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” giving him a Top Twenty pop hit, a country smash and a sense of frustration.
“I wanted to keep doing the George Jones and Merle Haggard type music, the stuff I grew up listening to,” Chesnutt tells Rolling Stone Country. “I thought my label would stick with me and let me be who I was because we were coming off all these Number One singles, we were selling a whole bunch of albums, but it wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted me to start doing exactly what those guys were doing. I ended up recording some things I wasn’t very comfortable with over the years, just trying to play the game.”
Chesnutt’s smooth vocal on “There Won’t Be Another Now” pays reverent respect to Haggard and Tradition Lives serves as a sturdy reminder that the 1993 CMA Horizon Award winner has, more often than not, stuck to the traditions that inspired him and that now inspire a new generation of young artists.