REVIEW: Kenny Chesney – ‘Songs For The Saints’

The modern-day king of country music, Kenny Chesney, is back with his new album ‘Songs For The Saints’ (not that he every really went away). As I’m sure many will relate to, Kenny has provided the soundtrack to my summer for a number of years, making this project my most-anticipated release of 2018. I have to say though, I’ve been underwhelmed by Kenny’s last couple of albums – aside from the odd moments of quality like ‘American Kids’, ‘Wild Child’ and ‘All The Pretty Girls’, they left a lot to be desired. One of my favourite albums is ‘Life On A Rock’; nobody can pull off the island vibe quite like Kenny, and thankfully the new project is a return to the sounds of the Caribbean and sees Kenny back at the top of his game.

All the proceeds from this album are being donated to Kenny’s Love for Love City Foundation, which funds rescue and rebuilding projects post-Hurricane Irma. It’s quite clearly the album that Kenny wanted to make; no influence from labels and, in all honesty, no obvious choices for a radio single to be found aside from ‘Get Along’. The result is an 11-track masterpiece filled with heart-felt lyrics and sun-drenched melodies, epitomising the spirit, resilience and hope of the hurricane victims.

First up is the title track, ‘Song For The Saints’, which sets the tone and theme for the rest of the album. “We say we can when they say we can’t, see what it is when they see what it ain’t” – it sums up the emotion behind the album perfectly. With no major production behind it, it’s an anthemic stamp of authority and hope in the aftermath of the tragic hurricane; a refusal to back down. Right from the off, you get a taste of just how personal this record is for Kenny. It’s a pure passion project from start to finish.

One of my personal favourites follows with ‘Every Heart’. Written by Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally, the song was born out of a picture Kenny sent to Josh of ships piled up on top of each other, epitomising the devastation on the island. Working their magic, Josh and Shane created a song which is a wonderful description of the struggles of life, not just for those on the island but for the world in general, and how we all get through them together as one big community. It features one of my favourite lines – “Silver lining’s kind of hard to find when the world stops at the horizon line” – lyrical imagery at its most powerful from two of the best in the business.

In terms of single releases, I’d hazard a guess that ‘Pirate Song’ is a radio smash in waiting. With a simple yet incredibly effective guitar riff and anthem of a chorus, it’s quintessential Kenny Chesney and was simply made for the stadiums. ‘We’re All Here’ could also be a good fit for country radio – “We’re all here cos we ain’t all there”. An infectious party tune that despite its rather playful groove, holds great meaning. It’s based on the crazy ride Kenny took to becoming a musician; clearly a very personal one if you take a look at interviews Kenny has done around the album.

The real outliers on the album in terms of sound are ‘Love For Love City’ and ‘Ends Of The Earth’. The former features Ziggy Marley and oozes the island vibe. Reggae, reggae and more reggae; you can imagine the two of them on a beach, sitting around a campfire and jamming out. There’s a lovely rawness to the recording, and the emotional delivery from two phenomenal vocalists carries the message of the song beautifully. The latter, ‘Ends Of The Earth’, is my favourite track on the album and is a far cry from anything I can ever remember Kenny recording. If you need a lesson in atmospheric production and how impactful that can be on the feeling of the song, this is a masterclass. Written by Lord Huron founding member Ben Schneider, this one draws you in with its haunting vibe and I sincerely hope it’s added to Kenny’s live set lists soon.

Elsewhere, we have ‘Gulf Moon’ (penned by John Baumann) which is just about as Chesney as it gets – soulful, chill-out island music at its most sublime. On ‘Island Rain’, you’ll hear Kenny entering Zac Brown Band territory, with a ‘Day That I Die’-esque melody, before slowing the pace right down for ‘Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season’ with island king Jimmy Buffet. The collection truly encapsulates all the emotions, imagery and scenarios associated with isolated life on an island; let it take you away and forget your troubles for 43 minutes.

The album ends with ‘Better Boat’, written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, which Kenny has chosen as the follow-up single to ‘Get Along’. This one didn’t strike me as a radio single at first but I’m mighty glad it’s getting the exposure. This is one of those iconic songs that Kenny might just look back on at the end of his career as one of his proudest releases. It’s a song about self-evaluation, dealing with inner struggles and working out how to move forward in life, which I’m sure we can all relate to in one way or another. “Now and then I let it go, I ride the waves I can’t control… I’m learning how to build a better boat”. Melodically the most stripped back, simplest track on the album but arguably the most effective too.

‘Songs For The Saints’ is a hugely refreshing return to the Kenny Chesney we know and love. With 5 co-writes of his own, as opposed to just 2 on his previous album, there’s much more of a personal attachment with this album, both for Kenny and the listener. Quality material from start to finish, it’s right up there with the best he has ever released.

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan