It’s not easy to be a superstar. You have to constantly be “on” whenever you’re out in public and while the trade-off for privacy is balanced with a fatter checkbook and notoriety, it’s still a brilliant thing when someone like Kenny Chesney can find a place to be who he is, without having to be “Kenny Chesney, superstar.” That place is the Virgin Islands and it’s once-again the subject of his musical focus on Songs For The Saints. This album wasn’t even the album he intended to release as his first release via his new label partnership with Warner Music Nashville (Chesney’s Blue Chair Records left longtime home Sony Nashville earlier this year, after the massively successful double disc Live In No Shoes Nation collection). But all of that changed upon the two massive hurricanes (Irma and Maria) which hurt the place where Chesney found himself.
Fans may want to lump this album and it’s batch of songs in with past beach albums (Be As You Are [Songs From An Old Blue Chair] and Just Who I Am: Poets And Pirates) but to do so would be to ignore the intent of Songs For The Saints and the reason for its existence. It’s an album about and for the people and islands he holds so dear and while nearly every song coalesces around life and the island’s recovery, these are still songs that fit universally into life. They’re also sonically rich in most every detail. There’s nothing “over produced” or really “hard charging” here and the album’s all the better for it.
The title track opens up Songs For The Saints and the song, one of four Chesney wrote for the project, finds Chesney toasting the people who make up the islands and how they’re a hearty bunch. With a Springsteen-like sing-a-long chorus, “Song For The Saints” certainly feels like it could be another commercial hit for Chesney, even if that was never the intent of the singer. “Every Heart,” from two of the three writers behind this album’s chart-topping lead single “Get Along,” is a sweet song about love in various forms while “Love For Love City” features a jovial melody as it talks about the devastation and how he feels about the citizens who are working together to recover. Ziggy Marley provides a musical assist on the track as well.
Being a superstar allows Chesney to make interesting song choices but it’s also why he’s remained a superstar. Two interesting song choices are Lord Huron’s “Ends of The Earth” and John Baumann’s “Gulf Moon.” Both are obvious radio single contenders with the former retaining the atmospheric indie rock vibe of the original while the latter is an acoustic-based slice of a lyrical story song, the kind of song which used to dominate country music radio stations. Speaking of interesting song choices, “Better Boat,” a song originally recorded on writer Travis Meadows’ 2017 release First Cigarette, closes out this introspective -- yet very warm and heartfelt -- album. It’s a song ripped from Meadows life and rather than sing an vanilla replica, Chesney (and harmony vocalist Mindy Smith) sing the song in Chesney’s own voice, a smart choice and one that allows his take on the stunning track to soar and I’m truthfully hopeful Kenny and Warner Bros. choose it as a radio single. (Another cover is "Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season," a 48 year old song from Jimmy Buffett, who also guests on the song)
The path to continued success for Kenny Chesney, especially on his first album with a new record label, would've been to record just another album of radio-ready fare but instead, he’s decided to record Songs For The Saints and it will go down as one of — if not the best — of his legendary career. And it’s a testament to the people who allowed the superstar to just be Kenny, the people who are rebuilding paradise with such grace and beauty and truly shows how they collectively have a massive piece of his heart.