Album Review — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s ‘Reunions’

Jason Isbell has clearly established at this point that he’s one of the greatest songwriters of this generation. Album after album of lyrical excellency has solidified his spot in the history books as an artist who will be remembered by many for years to come. But his last album The Nashville Sound felt like a bit of a “let down” and for him a let down is an album that is a strong 8 to light 9 (while also earning two Grammys). While “If We Were Vampires” and “Anxiety” were standouts and in my opinion some of his best songs ever, there were also well intentioned, but clunky in execution songs like “White Man’s World” and “Hope The High Road.” I can’t deny I was worried he would have more songs like this one. And again I have zero issues with message songs like this one. But like many modern day message songs, they often focus too much on the message and not enough on the song being good too. You can have the best messages in the world in your songs, but if the songs aren’t good, nobody is listening and nobody hears the message (which defeats the whole purpose).

The first two singles for Reunions were wrongly misinterpreted by a few as being in this vein. But after hearing “What’ve I Done to Help” and “Be Afraid,” these songs clearly aren’t clunky like the aforementioned songs on Isbell and the 400 Unit’s previous album. It’s even more clear when hearing them with the rest of the album. They’re actually great and catchy songs with heartfelt messages about lending a helping hand and taking a stand for things you believe in. And there’s no inherent political messages being conveyed (the listener of course is welcome to interpret this to be political if they wish to do so). These songs also feel even more appropriate within these trying times in our country, serving as inspirational anthems.

These singles were definitely a great indication of the sound of this album, which is a very guitar-driven, straight-ahead rock sound that Isbell said was inspired by 80s rock like Dire Straits. While upon first listens it feels like this album lacks the vibrancy of previous albums, it grows more and more upon repeat listens. Particularly the guitar work on this is really given a pedestal and drives the songs, a credit to Isbell, the 400 unit and his now regular producer Dave Cobb. It really shines on “Overseas,” where the guitar work is just simmering with heat and emotion. The song serves as a great reminder that you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles with this level of guitar playing.

Speaking of “Overseas,” if there’s one weaker spot on this album, it’s when Isbell evokes allegorical, more abstract lyricism. The aforementioned song, “River” and “St. Peter’s Autograph” are all great songs. But they’re definitely not immediately accessible and fall in the same vein of my thoughts on Cody Jinks’ “William and Wanda.” This is kind of ironic in comparison to the rest of the album, as it feels like some of Isbell’s most accessible work yet. It can make for a jarring listen until the album really sinks in. It’s a minor nitpick, but a nitpick nonetheless.

“Dreamsicle” is about a child watching his parents’ marriage fall apart and watching the dreams of his youth disappearing. At first I didn’t like Isbell stretching his vocals so much, but I came to appreciate it with more listens (much like with Eric Church’s “Higher Wire”). “Only Children” and “Running with Our Eyes Closed” are two more great love songs from Isbell. While acts like Tennis and Carly Rae Jepsen do such a great job of showing the sunnier sides of love, Isbell nails the darker, more dour moments. “Running with Our Eyes Closed” in particular feels like the after of “If We Were Vampires,” stripping away the romanticism and showing the “worts” of being in a relationship.

The best two songs on this album for me though are without a doubt the final two. While I enjoy the brawnier guitar moments a lot, it’s these starkly honest final tracks that grab me the most. “It Gets Easier” is a raw and confessional song about Isbell coming to grips with where he’s at in his commitment to sobriety. While the fight never ends and never gets easy, Isbell realizes it gets easier with age, despite the fears that he will relapse in the back of his mind. Emotionally, honest-driven lyrics like these are why Isbell is one of the best, as he flawlessly conveys the drive and struggle behind a complex issue.

Isbell shows his softest side with “Letting You Go,” where he as a father comes to the hard realization of one day having to let go of his daughter. It’s such a beautiful look at the relationship of father and daughter, and how the former has to learn how to shed his naturally protective nature and let his daughter live her life without him by her side at all times. The chorus in particular just tugs so hard at the heart strings, with “The roses just know how to grow” line being one of Isbell’s best. It says so much with so much heart and I imagine any fathers listening to this probably melt when hearing it.

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Grade: Solid 9/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3Up1uKhcPA

Review — Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me”

This song is amazing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask: Why did her label wait until yet another instance of racist police murder to release it? Why not release this during a “normal time”? Why wait until something happens? Why did the label not try to spark the conversation whenever instead of looking like they’re being opportunistic and exploiting a situation for profit? And even if this song was just written, it still begets the question of why hasn’t Mickey Guyton been allowed to release a full album? For crying out loud it’s been five years since she released an EP, which was brilliant by the way and I still maintain that “Pretty Little Mustang” should have been a hit. Capitol Records Nashville needs to stop screwing around and forgetting about her because from the outside it appears they treat her presence on the roster as tokenism and that’s wrong. We can get angry at country radio for their bullshit, but these major labels need to be called out and held accountable too.

As for the song, it’s a strong and powerful message that everybody needs to hear: the uncomfortable reality in which African Americans find themselves in every day in this country. Constantly feeling uncomfortable, being shamed and excluded for the color of their skin is the norm for African Americans, something that Guyton clearly explains that’s always been a present issue from childhood to now. The chorus is not only catchy, but sends a loud and clear message with the white picket fence imagery and asking the listener to understand what it feels to be black like Guyton. And of course Guyton’s voice sounds brilliant as always, reminding us she has one of the most dynamic voices in country music. The song fittingly ends with a hopeful message of envisioning the day this oppression ends and how Guyton will always be proud to be black.

This is a song that should be played far and wide for all. This song could be an important moment for country music if it chooses to make it so. I honestly don’t have confidence country music (specifically radio) will do this, but I remain hopeful. And I know I will keep playing this song, as it’s undoubtedly one of the best you’ll hear in music this year.

Grade: 10/10

Click here for ways you can help Black Lives Matter. 

Album Review — Tyminski’s ‘Southern Gothic’

[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in October 2018. It’s being re-posted for reader visibility and appears as it was originally posted, with the only changes being for grammar/spelling. While a divisive release amongst country listeners, I feel it’s a great album that will possibly serve as an important release in the future for the genre.]

Sometimes it can take years for people to recognize an impactful piece of music. This can happen because the music is by an artist that isn’t well-known or the music is so different that it takes the genre and audience years to catch up. I fully believe this when it comes to Tyminski’s Southern Gothic album he released last year. When it becomes more common place for electronic elements and country to be fused together, people will look back and point to this album as a pioneering effort in electronic country. Dan Tyminski was the perfect artist for an album like this one with his extensive bluegrass experience and being the voice behind the hit “Hey Brother.” Southern Gothic may not be a perfect album, but it shows us just how excellent electronic country can sound.

The album’s title track opens and right away Tyminski delivers one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a scathing, cynical and dark look at the average small town in America. What were once regarded as little Mayberry-like towns with hard-working people is now full of sin and hypocrites. I particularly enjoy how the song shows the dissonance of how the town full of God-fearing people and churches on every corner demonstrate themselves to be anything but Christian-like. The production on this song is so spot on, perfectly creating the haunting, creepy vibe that lulls over the town being described in the song (credit to producer Jesse Frasure). This song is such a refreshingly real look at really the state of small town America right now, exposing the flaws and problems that plague modern society that many seemingly don’t want to acknowledge.

“Breathing Fire” is your “I don’t give a shit anymore” anthem. It’s about being fed up of turning the other cheek and just raising hell instead. It’s fun and catchy, making it impossible to not bob your head along with the beat. The next song “Gone” is about the loss of small town love. While his love leaves the small town, the man is left to be haunted by her memories and wondering what if. I enjoy the urgency Tyminski shows in his voice throughout, showing the passion and heartbreak of a broken man well. The bouncy and infectious “Temporary Love” just grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in recent memory in country music. Throughout the song the man decries one-night stands and his short-lived relationships, blaming both himself and the intoxication of quick sex. He’s ready for something more permanent and meaningful, but can’t pull himself away to find it. The rhythmic clapping with the interludes of drum machines makes this song so damn danceable, an element that gets under looked in the genre.

Tyminski follows this with another catchy song in “Perfect Poison.” It could easily serve as the song about the short-term and hook-up relationships mentioned in “Temporary Love.” The opening of the chorus, “You’re no good for me/Like a methamphetamine”, is delivered perfectly by Tyminski and the song just sounds like the chaos of the relationship. “Devil is Downtown” deals with the access of opioids in small town America. It goes into detail of how easy it can be to get a quick hit from the drug dealer downtown and how easy it is to fall into the trap of drugs. It’s a dark, but necessary glimpse into something that is a real problem.

“Hollow Hallelujah” is one of the more underrated moments on the album. I interpret the song to be about being afraid to get help and look for answers, instead just crawling on your own and wandering in your own darkness. The song’s ultimate message is it’s okay to ask for that help and that God and friends are there to help you through. This song demonstrates the importance of showing the light in a dark song, as it provides the contrast necessary to drive home the message. The Celtic folk-influenced “Good For Your Soul” gets back to the fun side of the album. It’s an enjoyable ditty about a man expressing how great of a fit he is for his woman and his desire to always be with her. “Wailing Wall” follows a similar line. The heavy bass of the drums gives the song a swaggering, pounding tone that sticks with you.

“Haunted Heart” puts me in the mind of one of my favorite books, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It reminds me of the part of the story where it reaches the sweaty and dark jungle. It conveys a sense of urgency, fear and loneliness, just like the heartbroken man described in this song. Tyminski reflects upon his love of music being handed down to him by his family on “Bloodline.” It’s a nice homage to where and who he’s come from, showing how it went from a hobby to a passion for him. For those who dismiss this album for its sound, they miss out on the many meaningful songs like this one.

Tyminski addresses the end of a relationship on “Wanted.” He’s ready to walk out the door and be gone for good, knowing both him and his woman got what they wanted in the relationship. She got his love for a while and he leaves, as he knew what the relationship was destined for from the beginning. It’s a solid track, albeit maybe unnecessary with the album run time going a bit too long for my liking. The album closes out with the ominous sounding “Numb.” It’s one of the rawest moments on the album, as a man realizes he can’t recapture the old feelings of a past love. He feels nothing about her, as the pain of the fallout has made him empty inside from his inability to let it go. In an album full of dark moments, this is perhaps the darkest as it shows a window to the inside of the loneliest type of heartbreak imaginable.

Tyminski’s creativity and innovation is on full display on Southern Gothic. As I said this isn’t a perfect album, but its brilliant moments outshine the few flaws. A big credit should be given to Jesse Frasure, who produced the album and helped write many of the songs. He’s helped introduce many new wrinkles in country music (some good, some bad) and this is perhaps his best work so far, perfectly capturing the dark and chaotic nature of the songs throughout this album. I hope this pairing will continue to work together and create more projects in the future. Tyminski is the one who should lead this electronic country sound and demonstrate its potential to the rest of the genre, as Southern Gothic is without a doubt a pioneering effort.

Grade: 8/10

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 1: Hot Country Knights, Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, and more

The Hot Country Knights deliver even more than I expected with their debut album The K is Silent. You can spend a lot of time analyzing all of the puns and hilarious references (some time will be spent on this of course). But in my opinion the best thing to sum up about this album can be found in the music video for the lead single of this album, “Pick Her Up.” In this clear parody of bro country (as well as 90s country too), the video opens with the modern country male concert goer in his flannel shirt and vest. It’s a little detail, but it struck me because of it’s accuracy because this is literally how the vast majority of guys I see at concerts dress. At The Cadillac Three concert I attended back in February (what will highly likely be my one and only show in 2020), pretty much every dude at show looked like the guy in the music video.

Now to why I point this out and to me it’s symbolism for modern country. Every thing looks and sounds the same just like the listeners who consume it. I don’t mean this as a shot at these listeners or anybody at all, nor did Dierks Bentley and his band mean to make this some sort of symbolism. But for myself I couldn’t help but make the connection. I just found it fascinating how so much of popular modern music makes things so cookie cutter to the point even the listener is a cardboard cutout. It shows the cascading effect art and culture can have on people. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

Back to the Hot Country Knights and the video, they give the guy a 90s makeover (or 80s?) and set him up with a souped up truck to impress his date. It’s completely corny, out of style and yet brimming so much with the personality that lacks in country music today. It doesn’t feel like calculated marketing and it’s just being itself, which easier said than done in today’s world. Yes, this album goes on to point out how even 90s country was formulaic in it’s approach and relied on copy and paste imagery for songs. But it was fun and didn’t take itself so seriously, yet it could also find balance with serious songs occasionally too. It felt natural and had an accessibility about it that could resonate with the average person because it didn’t try so hard to be cool or appeal to certain demographics. Of course I will fully admit too that nostalgia makes me see things slightly through rose-colored glasses. But it’s the fun-loving spirit of this album that resonates mostly with me and how it’s not afraid to go “out there” and be a little weird and kooky.

The features on this album are perfect with Travis Tritt and Terri Clark each shining brightly in their roles. “Asphalt” is non-stop chuckles with it’s non-stop ass-based references (and another hilarious music video). “Moose Knuckle Shuffle” actually makes me want to dance and do the Moose Knuckle Shuffle while also doing a perfect parody of the line-dancing phase of the 90s. The highlight of the album for me though has to be “Then It Rained.” At first I was like wait a minute this is familiar and then I realized it was a dead-on take of Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and I absolutely lost it. It’s quite “Seinfeldian” as my friend Zack at The Musical Divide perfectly puts it, with it’s take on the average boring moment followed by rain. This type of humor is right up my alley. The best line is “I ordered up a hot dog and a glass of chardonnay/Somewhere I thought I heard George Strait/And then it rained.” It’s just so randomly hilarious!

The album’s title track rhymes whiskey with whiskey, which feels like the ultimate meta reference to how asinine modern country songwriting can be at times while also referencing how critics like myself can never help ourselves in pointing things like this out in reviews. “Mull It Over” is both funny and manages to incorporate a mullet reference right under your nose (while lines throughout reference the hair style too). “You Make It Hard” is the ultimate dick joke song. Finally you have “The USA Begins with US,” which casually and flawlessly mocks the absurdity that is so many patriotic country songs and how some artists inauthentically pander so hard with the USA stuff in their music (think songs like “Chicken Fried”).

While this was just a “casual” side project for Dierks Bentley and his band, you can tell a lot of love and work went into this fun idea. And I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Hot Country Knights, as the cornier, fun side of country music is something we need again. Speaking of more fun country music, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers returned with another collaboration album, Hold My Beer, Vol. 2. The first addition got high praise from yours truly and I flipped when I saw the news that they were coming back with another edition in May.

While I really enjoyed this album for the most part, I unfortunately have to point the huge flaw in this project before getting to what I enjoy. And I have to point it out first because I was enjoying it so much upon initial listens and then I finally did my “deep” listen of it. The huge flaw I discovered was “Her.” Now I know I pointed out above that music today should have a more casual nature about it and not be so overthought. But it’s hard not to come away from “Her” as anything but disappointing. A song about a guy getting his friend drunk and stealing his girl away is just not something I can get behind, no matter how “fun-loving” it tries to come off. This song is no different than the horrible Old Dominion song “Break Up with Him.” It’s just in bad taste all-around and unlike Ashley McBryde’s new album Never Will, this song doesn’t try to view the flawed characters as neutral or bad actors, but rather quite the opposite.

So after making this discovery it felt like I had just eaten a piece of delicious chocolate cake only for the chef to come up to me afterwards and whisper in my ear that there was a fly baked into it. Nevertheless, the rest of this album is the kind of fun traditional country I can get behind and put on repeat. While there are no true highlights that resonate with me like on the first volume, there was still several fun moments. “Rodeo Clown” is an hilarious song about a guy being left by his woman for a rodeo clown. While it’s an embarrassing and sad thing for the guy, it’s quite a funny image from the outside looking in. While at first “Rhinestoned” and “Speak to Me Jukebox” felt a bit on the nose, I’ve ultimately come to really enjoy these little homages to country music and previous standards that so many country listeners enjoy.

“Am/Fm” is admittedly a bit too close to the very songs these two mocked with “Standards,” but damn if it isn’t admittedly catchy too. So I can understand anybody who decidedly falls on either side of the fence with this song. “Let Merle Be Merle” can kind of come off a bit tone deaf upon first listen of the chorus, but I realized upon more listens the message is really about letting people be what they are. Particularly with country music the song is saying to let the past be the past, don’t try to be the next Haggard. And these are messages I can get behind. “Ode to Ben Dorcy” surprised me as I was greeted by the welcoming voice of Waylon Jennings. And I found the song to be even more cool when I read about the origins of it, as it pays tribute to the long-time roady who supported so many artists.

“Mi Amigo”, even with the nice feature of Asleep at the Wheel, is a bit generic and forgettable. “Warm Beer” is a bit cliché, but I’ll admit I can enjoy it too for it’s easy-going nature. “Hold My Beer” is definitely better and is the kind of song that encapsulates the entertaining, buddy-buddy personalities of Bowen and Rogers. I wish “Her” could have been replaced with another song like this one. Or another song like “This Ain’t My Town,” which I would have to pick as the best on the record. It’s a poignant commentary on the gentrification of towns like Austin and Nashville, stripping away the soul and characteristics that made the places once resonate with the city’s original residents who now feel like strangers. It’s a nice balance also with the fun moments on this album, much like how “El Dorado” served on the first volume.

Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 is a really solid album that shines for the most part, despite the flaws. Although I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to make an observation of this album and The K is Silent. Each album shares multiple writers (Jon Randall, the Beavers brothers), despite the fact that some Texas Country supporters will insist that Wade and Randy’s album is much more authentic and country. But I would make the argument that these albums are essentially the same, as each have the same fun attitude and themes throughout.

The only difference is packaging and marketing. One is trying to be “serious” and the other is a “parody.” But you could argue both for well both. The point I’m ultimately trying to make here is how hung up in perceptions us listeners can have when it comes to music and the perception we think we give by listening to a certain type of music. Really at the end of the day it’s just a matter of how it makes you feel and if you enjoy it. The other stuff is just noise artists, labels and industry people trying to suck you into this fake us vs them plot to sell more music and tickets. And unfortunately this fuels the divides that exist in music too. In the words of the Doobie Brothers, just listen to the music and you can’t go wrong.

Hot Country Knights – The K is Silent – Strong 8/10

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 – Light 8/10


And more…

  • After enjoying the Hot Country Knights album, it actually prompted me to re-listen to Dierks Bentley’s The Mountain. And I’m glad I did. Originally I was in the very small minority of not enjoying the album. But now you can count me in the camp of liking it. I’m not sure why I originally didn’t enjoy it, and while I wouldn’t put it as one of Bentley’s best (such as Modern Day Drifter, Riser, Up on the Ridge), it’s a really solid album full of great messages that deal with overcoming fears, anxiety and finding love. “Burning Man” is the perfect opener and the Brothers Osborne are the ideal feature for this type of song. The album’s title track feels like a good summation of this album, “You Can’t Bring Me Down” is an uplifting anthem and “Son of the Sun” is where you can really tells Dierks lets his inspiration from Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives’ Way Out West shine through. And his collaboration with Brandi Carlile on “Travelin’ Light” is so enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ever warm up to Black, but The Mountain is an album worthy of recommendation from yours truly now.
  • Run the Jewels is dropping RTJ4 on June 5 and I am pumped! All three albums they’ve released have been great (RTJ2 in particular is one of the best albums of the past decade), so I’m quite confident that this will be another can’t miss record from the dynamic duo of El-P and Killer Mike. I got even more excited when I saw the all-star features list for the album, including the likes of 2 Chainz, Zack De La Rocha, Pharrell Williams and Mavis Staples. I’ve only listened to small snippets and plan to not listen to any of the full songs before the album to go in completely blind. Needless to say this is an album that on paper has a great shot of making my top albums of the year list.
  • I just reposted my review of Kenny Chesney’s great Songs of the Saints album. But unfortunately his new album is right back to the generic garbage I’ve come to hate from him. I didn’t even make it halfway through before shutting it off. It’s a shame how his mediocre stuff is what always ends up as hits while his better material never seems to resonate with listeners as much. Then again when you condition your audience into coming to concerts to get blackout drunk and trash venues up, it’s not really that surprising I guess.
  • I recently started to explore the discography of the Carpenters and I wish I would have done so sooner. Their melodies are gorgeous and Karen Carpenter has to be one of the most underrated artists of all-time. It’s a shame her life was cut so short. Close To You is the standard recommendation with this duo and for good reason, as I enjoy it front to back. The love songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “They Long To Be Close To You” easily standout thanks to the beautiful voice of Karen and their different take on the cover of “Help” holds up right next to The Beatles.
  • I gotta say I’m not a fan of the COVID-19-inspired songs being released. It’s bad enough to be profiting off a deadly virus, but then the songs themselves are so boring and uninspiring. I don’t really think anybody needs another reminder of it either. Country music in particular seems to be releasing the most songs about the topic and it reminds me so much of immediate post-9/11 country music. Luke Combs has the most popular song with “Six Feet Apart.” It’s just decent and for me it’s starting feel like all of his songs have the same cadence and feel about him. They just sort of blend together, so I hope he plans for more variety in future songs. Brad Paisley though has released the worst with “No I in Beer.” It’s so lazy, the pandering is tacked on at the end and it feels like a watered down conglomeration of his past songs. Please start doing better, Brad.
  • I don’t really pay a lot of attention to country radio nowadays, but I glanced through the chart the other day and I was happy to see LOCASH’s “One Big Country Song” is rising up the charts and becoming a hit. I’ve never been a big fan of the duo, but this song really caught my ear when I heard it last year. While the topic of the song is quite overused in country music, LOCASH manages to pull it off thanks to the fun, singalong nature and the catchy guitar licks.

Thanks for reading the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey! This will be not necessarily a weekly feature, but a regular feature for sure. I will still do regular reviews when I have a ton to say about the album, but otherwise my thoughts will be in this feature. Josh’s Jukebox Journal will still be a feature and I plan to reveal at least one more feature very soon. I hope you enjoy my new approach to writing as much as I do! As always be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below!

Album Review — Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

[Editors note: This post originally appeared in Aug. 2018 on Fusion Country and is appearing as it was originally published. It’s being reposted here for reader visibility. It’s also one of the best releases of Kenny Chesney’s career, so it’s an album I definitely recommend.]

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10