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

Review – George Strait’s “Let It Go”

George Strait Let It Go

Throughout country music history, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many artists with a better career than the iconic George Strait. The legendary country artist has impressed and entertained country music fans across the world for multiple decades. What’s more impressive is the fact that he stayed true to himself and the roots of country music throughout his illustrious career. Over the past decade while many were selling out in country music, King George just kept making the music he wanted to make and still maintained a high level of success. So when he retired from major touring last year, pretty much everyone agreed that it was well-deserved and paid homage to him. Many though misinterpreted it as him retiring from music, which isn’t the case. He’s simply done touring, which is expected after spending decades on the road. Strait is still making music and just came out with the lead single from his new upcoming album, “Let It Go.”

First off it’s not a cover of the popular Frozen song. Although if Strait wanted to he would probably do a good job covering it because he’s just that good. No, Strait’s new single “Let It Go” is the opposite of anything frozen. It’s sunny and happy. He co-wrote the song with his son Bubba Strait and Keith Gattis (also co-wrote Strait’s “I Got A Car”). The song is about how tough life can be, but you shouldn’t let that get you down and just let your problems go. Instead move past them and be sure to enjoy the truly good times and let them roll. It’s a pretty simple theme, as that is the intention. This song is intended to be a carefree and easygoing summer song.

The instrumentation is decidedly country and beach-y. The acoustic guitar is present throughout the album and it’s funny how jarring it is to hear this in a mainstream country song. Imagine that? A country song that actually sounds country. The steel drums are also peppered throughout the song to give it a tropical feeling. Now some will point out that the steel drums aren’t really necessary and I agree. Then again I don’t feel like they’re hurting the song either. I understand why they’re in the song too, as Strait wants this to be a hot song throughout the summer. The steel drums will catch the attentions of younger listeners and will make for a great song to play on the beach. At the same time it’s decidedly country, so I think Strait did a great job balancing the traditional aspect and radio appeal to make it a song everyone can enjoy.

When it comes to beach songs, I’m now quite picky on them. There’s a fine line between dumb/annoying and fun/carefree. Examples of dumb and annoying beach songs are Luke Bryan’s entire beach song catalog and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” On the other hand I find Strait’s “Let It Go” to be fun and carefree. Obviously this isn’t Strait’s best and it’s not intended to be his best. Some may not like the fact that this single isn’t a deep ballad from Strait. To them I say wait for his album, as it will surely have some. This is just a fun and relaxing song meant to be played as you’re driving down an open road with the windows down. Not every song has to be serious. I say enjoy this song for what it is and appreciate the fact that it’s another actual country song that will be played on the radio (that makes five now, right?). I definitely recommend checking out “Let It Go” and I hope radio plays it all summer long. Strait delivers once again.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Greg Bates Returns With New Single “Sand”

Back when mainstream country music was the only realm of country music I knew about, I always kept an eye out for under-the-radar artists. The kind of artists who put out good music on major labels, but didn’t get a lot of radio play. One of these artists that caught my eye was Greg Bates. It was his debut single “Did It For The Girl” that specifically caught my attention. It was actually iTunes Free Single of the Week (which might actually be killed off by iTunes starting this year) and thought hey I’ll give it a listen for free. While the song was a little campy, I liked Bates’ voice and the traditional sound of the song. It ended up reaching #5 on the U.S. Country Airplay chart in 2012. The follow-up single, “Fill in the Blank,” which I thought was an even better song only reached #45 on the Country Airplay chart.

Bates then drifted off the mainstream radar and quietly parted ways with the Republic Nashville label (an imprint of Big Machine Records) at the end of 2013. To me it sounded like another artist getting ate up and spit back out by the Nashville machine because he didn’t conform to their standards. Maybe that was true. I’m not sure. He is now an independent artist on his own and just released his new single, “Sand.” In fact him and his producer Frank Rogers funded this completely out of their own pockets, which I admit is quite an admirable endeavor.

The song begins with a pop/adult contemporary beat and Bates’ voice being put through a machine to give it an “echo effect.” Yep that damn technique has reared its ugly head once again. And then you get these lyrics on top of it:

“We couldn’t wait to get down on that beach

We had a football and some fake IDs/A place to crash a hundred feet from the sand

A Maaco cooler and a radio/A Natty Light and a pack of smokes/Yeah we were on a roll”

The beach? Check. Reference a sport? Check. Name an alcohol brand? Check. We got ourselves a checklist, party, pop country song. But there’s more! It’s a nostalgic song that reflects on the memories of hanging out with a girl on the beach. It’s a party love song. How original! Bates sings that time passed that summer like “grains through an hour-glass.” Groan. I thought Florida Georgia Line only chose laughably terrible cliché lyrics in the chorus of their songs. Although it’s not quite as bad as Florida Georgia Line’s “Angel.”

This song is bland and has been done so many times in the last five years that I can’t take it seriously. What is the threshold country music has to reach for vanilla, pop country songs before they stop making them? Then again mainstream country fans keep buying it, so they’re going to keep cranking them out. The labels love this type of song too because it’s commercial and sponsor friendly. I will say when Bates’ voice isn’t put through the machine, it sounds good. The lyrics are bad, but not the worst in the world. That’s about all the nice things I can say about this song.

I’m sure “Sand” will do quite well on the charts and radio if it’s given a chance, especially during the warmer months coming up. It’s a summer song in the same vein as Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” There’s no word yet on when Bates is releasing an album. I hope it’s much better than this song, but I’m not hopeful. I’m afraid he’s going to do exactly what Joe Nichols’ did this past year and make music that appeals to the popular sound. It would be a shame because Bates is a talented artist capable of much more. I recommend avoiding “Sand.”

Grade: 4.5/10

To hear Greg Bates’ “Sand,” click here

[Correction & Update: Originally I stated in my review that Greg Bates was still signed with Big Machine Records. This was a careless mistake on my part and I apologize for it. I always strive to be accurate in my posts and unfortunately I slipped up. Therefore it was inaccurate saying Bates sold out to Nashville when he’s in fact an independent artist. I still stand by my review though and find the song to be a disappointment.]

Review/Rant – Jake Owen’s “Beachin'”

For the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty positive with my reviews. That’s because it’s been good music for the most part. The music that wasn’t good wasn’t that bad either. So to show I’m not going soft and to remind everyone what bad music sounds like, I’m going to review one of the worst songs that’s playing on the radio right now (and will probably play throughout the summer). Today I’m going to review  complain about Jake Owen’s single “Beachin’.”

Now before I tell you how much I loathe this song, keep in mind that I have nothing against Jake Owen. He’s a pretty nice guy and I’ve never heard anything bad said about him. He even came out last year and admitted that there are too many songs on country radio about drinking and trucks. When he came out and said that, I was expecting better material from him after his last annoying hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.” But he stuck to the bro country trend and released this nightmare upon listeners across the nation.

The biggest problem with “Beachin'” is Jake Owen rapping the song basically. Owen is the furthest thing from a damn rapper. He is incapable of rapping and he should never rap a song ever in his entire life. If he wanted rapping, why didn’t he just get a hip-hop artist to rap in the song? On second thought, let’s just keep rapping completely out of country music. There is no place for it and that is why I completely disregard hick hop. I’m pretty sure the Mud Digger albums contain the music they play in hell. Absolutely no substance, creativity or skill goes into hick hop. “Beachin'” is pretty much a polished and radio friendly hick hop song.

There are zero country elements in this song. It’s a pop song attempting to be Jimmy Buffett beach country. I guess Owen thinks he should take over for Kenny Chesney (who isn’t that bad at beach songs) in the department of artists who will never be as good at making beach songs as Buffett. For some reason country labels keep thinking they can make another Jimmy Buffett, but they never will. Buffett is unique and in a class of his own with beach songs. “Margaritaville” sounds like Sinatra compared to “Beachin’.” Lyrically, it’s nothing but a bunch of summer and beach clichés uttered over and over. There’s no attempt at creativity or something of interest with the lyrics. The worse lines of this song is obviously the ridiculous chorus. Read the following out loud and tell me you don’t feel stupid for reading it:

“Sunshine, blue eyes, tan lines, slow tide rolling/ white sand, cold can, coozy in my hand just a summer time strollin’/chillin’, breezin’, sippin’ singing ohhhhh Beachin'”

When I went to see who wrote this monstrosity, I was surprised I didn’t see Dallas Davidson didn’t have a hand in it. He’s usually one of the evil masterminds behind the bro country garbage you hear on the radio. Jake Owen didn’t write it either. The writers of this song are Jaren Johnston, Jon Nite and Jimmy Robbins. Mr. Robbins has his own dirty list of country songs he’s written. Among them are Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” Thomas Rhett’s “It Goes Like This,” and three songs on Miranda Lambert’s new album Platinum. Not every song on it is bad, but it isn’t the prettiest list either. I’ll be keeping my eye on Robbins because he seems like he’s becoming more of a go to writer for mainstream country artists.

There are zero redeeming qualities about Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” Owen is a likable guy, but that isn’t even enough to earn any goodwill for this song from me. I think Owen is capable of good music, but this is the furthest thing from it. I would hope Owen learns from this, but he won’t because this song is hot on the charts. It’s in the top ten of the Billboard Country single chart, the Billboard Country Airplay chart and the iTunes country chart. People are eating this song up like hotcakes. Nothing against you if you like this music, but I just can’t stand it (and don’t ever play it near me).

Say hello to the newest member of Country Perspective’s Zero Club: “Beachin'”

Grade: 0/10