Upon listening to any collection of songs by Kenny Chesney, it is obvious that he is an island man. He takes after Jimmy Buffett in more ways than one, and almost all of his most popular songs involve boating, the beach, Mexico, and countless references to “the islands.”
His obsession with the Carribbean makes sense. Chesney lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands when he isn’t on tour, and he watched his home and countless others get destroyed by the devastating 2017 hurricane season. He started a foundation called Love for Love City that helped people on the islands get supplies and help after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Proceeds from the sales of his latest album, Songs for the Saints, are benefitting the foundation.
The album itself doesn’t reflect Chesney’s usual sound—it’s slower, sadder, and deeper. References to reminiscent beach parties and tales of his youth are nowhere to be found. In their place is a deeply personal and spiritual pattern of songs which represents “moving forward,” Chesney said in an interview with NPR.
The first song and title track of the album, “Songs for the Saints,” fully encompasses what the album is all about. The song is replete with uplifting lyrics—take “This brokenness will heal, this weakness will be strong / Let’s lift our voice together as the saints go marching on” for example—but the music itself isn’t as inspiring as it is dreary.
Chesney’s upbeat music has always far outperformed his slower songs. Out of his dozens of hits, only three slow songs come to mind that ultimately gained popularity: “Come Over,” and “You and Tequila” and “Wild Child,” both featuring Grace Potter. Chesney is at his best when performing catchy singalongs—at heart, he is a true entertainer. His music is made to be performed live, and his fans soak it in every summer when he goes on tour. Songs for the Saints, however, isn’t necessarily an entertaining album. The songs don’t fit in with the crazy, wild atmosphere that is commonplace at a Kenny Chesney concert.
One exception is the album’s lead single, “Get Along.” The song carries the entire album and is a solid hit in every respect. It’s catchy. It has good lyrics. It emcompasses an uplifting, feel-good message. And it is full of easy-to-remember lines that make for a great live performance. The hit, which was penned by country lyric powerhouse Shane McAnally along with Josh Osborne and Ross Copperman, features lyrics like “Get along, on down the road / We’ve got a long, long way to go / Scared to live, scared to die / We ain’t perfect but we try” to get stuck in your head the second you hear the song.
Fellow island-lover Buffett joined Chesney for a remake of “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season,” originally released on Buffett’s 1974 album A1A. The mellow track is among the best of the album—it has the rolling, calm cadence typical in Buffett’s music. The two make for perfect musical collaborators and should pursue this further. The similarities between the two artists, and their fan groups, are striking. More collaborations between the two would prove extremely popular.
Another collaboration on the album includes Ziggy Marley, the oldest son of Bob Marley, on “Love for Love City.” The laid-back, easygoing tune is simple and made for the beach. However catchy the song, though, it is also repetitive. Again, slow and steady isn’t always Chesney’s forte.
The one slow song on Songs for the Saints that is solid in every sense is “Better Boat” featuring folk singer-songwriter Mindy Smith. The poignant lyrics reveal a deeper, spiritual side of Chesney that is not usually displayed. Words such as “Now and then I let it go, I ride the waves I can’t control / I’m learning how to build a better boat” are soothing to listeners. The calming song puts both Chesney and Smith’s vocals on full display, creating a touching and sensitive bond that is not usually featured in Chesney’s fast-paced hits.
“Better Boat” closes out the album in an uplifting and inspiring way, urging both the islands and individuals across the globe to rise and become better together. This song, along with “Get Along” and “Songs for the Saints,” truly embodies what Chesney is trying to promote with the album: a notion of compassion, love, and healing for those affected by natural disasters. While it might not be his usual wild, witty sound, Songs for the Saints accomplishes Chesney’s mission with a dose of introspection and faith.