U.S. Virgin Islands — As friends were being airlifted off the Hurricane Irma-toppled Virgin Islands, Kenny Chesney was in the studio recording what in many ways was his response to the destruction that swept through in the Caribbean. Writing, recording and searching for songs in the moment added an immediacy to the music, and those recordings became Songs for the Saints.
Deeply personal, but more importantly, deeply committed to the rescue and healing of the people who live in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the project goes past the trauma to focus on the indomitable spirit of those people. The 11 songs offer hope, support, commitment and especially recognition of how irrepressible they are.
“I wanted to make a record that shows the spirit and resilience of the people who live on those islands, who are generationally tied to them, or are raising families there,” Chesney explains. “To me, it’s about the hope, the strength, the joy and the courage they are bringing to the task of rebuilding after a kind of destruction no one has ever seen before. To let them know, they’re not only not forgotten months later, but we’re holding them up as inspiration – and offering help in any way that we can, including music. Because music heals, it inspires, and this is for them.”
With the percolating “Get Along” in the Top 10, with its message of coming together and valuing what matters, the rest of Songs for the Saints works from a more philosophical place. The title track and “Love for Love City,” especially, hone in on committing to the long run of providing support, while “Better Boat” is more personal, considering one’s own flaws and working to be more.
For the dozen song project, the 8-time CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year enlists good friends Jimmy Buffett, Ziggy Marley and Mindy Smith. As he says of his guests, “Each one of them has a tie to my life in the islands, but also reflect some piece of what we’re trying to do. Ziggy Marley, and his family’s legacy, holds so much truth for all of the people I know down there. Mindy Smith’s Come To Jesus was an album I lived with from morning to night when I was first going down there – and her voice sounds like an angel. And Jimmy, more than the lost shaker of salt, understands the poetry of the islands beyond what tourists see, the life in a way that made a song written decades ago so current. I’m honored they also want to help.”
Recorded largely in Nashville and mixed in Key West, Songs for the Saints is an immediate response to a place that has helped shape the songwriter/superstar from East Tennessee into the artist he became. Writing five of the songs, he spent time on the phone with other writers who shared his concern – and more songs poured in, as well as the musician/dreamer’s benediction “Gulf Moon” and Lord Huron’s “Ends of the Earth.”
“Creating like this, you don’t have a master plan, but the music will take you and teach you,” Chesney explains. “I knew I wanted this album to show the spirit of the people, but I wanted it to focus on healing, on their gift to rise above such complete chaos and devastation. They had no power, no real food, nothing; they dug in, started clearing the land and rebuilding. To me, that’s inspiring.”
Pre-Sales for Songs for the Saints begin Friday, June 15; available everywhere July 27.
Songs for the Saints
Love for Love City (with Ziggy Marley)
Ends Of The Earth
Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season (with Jimmy Buffett)
We’re All Here
Better Boat (featuring Mindy Smith)