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

Album Review – Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Dig Your Roots’

Florida Georgia Line Roots

Surprise! As you can see from the title, I decided to review something none of you were expecting: the new Florida Georgia Line album. For the past few months the site has moved away from negative reviews and started to focus solely on all of the great music that’s being produced. It wasn’t just because I felt we weren’t reviewing enough of great music. It was also because we were just sick of doing them and didn’t feel challenged and needed a break from it. But now I’m in the mood again to hand out a negative review now and then and what better to place to dive back in than Florida Georgia Line. Their last album Anything Goes won our inaugural Worst Album of the Year award in 2014. So I prepared myself for the worst with their new record Dig Your Roots, especially when I saw it was 15 songs long (my rule of thumb is no more than 12). While there is a fair share of bad music on this album, there’s actually a few positive things surprisingly.

The sound of crickets, frogs and a banjo play in “Smooth.” Something tells me this isn’t a sign of what’s to come on this album. Although I’m surprised the banjo continues throughout the song with some slightly heavy pop production. The song itself is about how smooth a girl is, from her body to her personality. For a song about a girl from Florida Georgia Line, there isn’t a lot of misogyny here. This is actually one of the better songs on the album, so I guess the start is smooth. That quickly changes though on the album’s title track, “Dig Your Roots.” We’re immediately hit with Brian Kelley rapping. Wonderful. The guy who never sings finally gets to say something and it’s terrible rapping. The song is about digging your roots, essentially appreciating family and where you’re from. An admirable theme, except the production is so damn annoying and overbearing it’s hard to hear the lyrics. This is the first of many moments on the album where Joey Moi completely ruins any chance of a song being good.

“Life Is A Honeymoon” takes a tacky Kenny Chesney direction, as Florida Georgia Line tackles beach music. For some reason this duo thinks they’re good at reggae, but they’re not. They did however have enough foresight actually bring someone onto the song who does. That would be Ziggy Marley, the son of reggae legend Bob Marley. If he did this song it might not have been half bad. But this is on a country album, not a reggae album. The album’s smash hit lead single “H.O.L.Y.” is next. As I explained in my original thoughts on this song in the Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music, this song just has no edge. It’s vanilla, banal and a straight adult contemporary track. And I feel like all this song gets done doing is repeating the word “holy” over and over. It’s just so obnoxious. Then there’s the line about touching heaven and I couldn’t roll my eyes any harder.

The one that never sings gets his chance to shine again on “Island.” In fact Kelley gets to sing for the entire song and it’s actually not the only time it happens on this album. This song is about a man feeling like he’s on an island with his woman because she’s the world to him. As much as it pains me to say it, I enjoy this a little bit as a harmless pop song because it has a good hook and there’s some sentiment there. It could have been better if the writers of this song actually took more time to add depth to it though. The current and second single of the album “May We All” follows. I just covered this in the Pulse too, but I would actually like to present a different take on it. After giving it further listens and hearing it in the context of the album, I actually like it more (I probably shouldn’t have re-read Sturgill’s rant before reviewing it). The themes of the simple life and the lessons you can learn throughout them still aren’t creatively amazing, but they pull it off and McGraw’s presence really helps give the song a sense of legitimacy about it.

“Summerland” is the kind of garbage I’ve come to expect and hate from Florida Georgia Line. This vapid, shallow summer song is why people hate the duo. It has absolutely nothing to say and shamelessly forces lots of clichés and namedrops to satisfy the gullible demo of people who enjoy this music. It’s like a Pitbull song, only there’s no charisma whatsoever and the lyrics aren’t catchy. This song belongs in the garbage bin next to everything Chris Lane has ever released. The barrage of annoyance continues on “Lifer.” I don’t know where to start with this Sharknado mess of a song. The lyrics sound like something the Internet wrote. It’s not country, even if they jammed an out-of-place steel guitar into the chorus. I bet that was the last thing added in the song. I think my biggest problem with this song is when the duo utters they’re “a product of George Strait.” They also reference the great Strait song “Check Yes or No.” Words can’t properly describe my reaction to this, so I need some help from actor/Mongoloid Nicholas Cage. Take it away Nick:

Nic Cage laughing

The problems of “Summerland” show up again on “Good Girl, Bad Boy.” The lyrics are so awkwardly terrible, as the duo sings some dull, meaningless tune about the ultimate cliché of a good girl and bad boy dating each other. Riveting stuff! Are Danny and Sandy going to pop out and break into song and dance too? “Wish You Were On It” wishes it were edgy with its sudden stop and starts throughout. This is supposed to be a heartbreak song, but like Cole Swindell on his new album earlier this year that’s full of these types of songs, the lyrics do nothing to create a sense of heartbreak. The same can be said of the instrumentation, which is more upbeat than anything resembling sad. This song was defeated before it even began.

The most insulting song on Dig Your Roots might be “God, Your Mamma, And Me.” This is the much hyped collaboration between one of the current terrors of country music and one of the biggest headaches of 90s radio. This is the song with the Backstreet Boys. I did not miss these guys and they still annoy me. But you know as angering as it is that the Backstreet Boys are featured on a “country” album, this is probably the most honest admittance from Florida Georgia Line. They’re full of shit when they proclaim to be a product of Strait, but they’re absolutely the product of boy bands of the 90s. So I’ll give them credit for honesty on “H.O.L.Y. II: Electric Boogaloo.” The sleepy “Music Is Healing” is next. I say sleepy because you’ll immediately forget this song after you hear it. Set to a dance pop beat, this duo sings about how songs are healing. A sentiment I agree with, but Florida Georgia Line has no clue what it means to make music that is a therapeutic experience when 90% of their output is about partying and tailgate sex.

At a whopping 15 songs long, I expected this album to have one “Dirt” moment and it finally happens on “While He’s Still Around.” With Kelley on lead vocals, it’s about a son wanting to make the most of the time he has left with his father before he passes away one day. He hopes to have many more moments and make him a proud grandfather before the inevitable phone call comes saying his father is dead. The instrumentation consists mostly of acoustic guitar and a hint of steel guitar (Joey Moi actually restrained himself from ruining it). This is an honestly pretty good country song and I would say even better than “Dirt,” making this Florida Georgia Line’s best song ever. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this is a single. Also a fact about this song that might stun you is Chase Rice helped write it.

“Grow Old” follows and is yet another pretty good song from the duo. This time with Hubbard on lead vocals, the song is about a husband hoping to spend the rest of his life with his love and grow old together. The song even goes into detail about how the relationship isn’t going to perfect all the time and they’ll suffer through hardships like counting pennies and eating out of a microwave to get by. There’s even noticeable steel guitar. Despite the mess at times on this album, Florida Georgia Line can claim two pretty good country songs on it. Dig Your Roots finally comes to an end with “Heatwave.” What I said about “Summerland” above you can essentially repeat for this song. You think they would want to end the album with their two best songs, but instead they wanted to remind us of the crap they settle on to churn out.

Dig Your Roots is a pretty mediocre album, but is also the best Florida Georgia Line has released so far in their career. Their first two albums were pretty close to bottom of the barrel, so they had nowhere to go but up. It’s only a small improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. The two songs that stand out by far are “While He’s Still Around” and “Grow Old,” two of the best songs they’ve ever released. There are a few average/above average tracks, while the rest you can easily skip. The majority of the album is filled with the kind of crap we’ve come to expect from Florida Georgia Line. For their sake they’ve successfully evolved into a safe, adult contemporary sound that will save them from the fate of irrelevancy that many bro country acts are now facing. Surprisingly Dig Your Roots is not one of the worst country albums of the year, but Florida Georgia Line is still nowhere close to calling themselves good, let alone a legitimate country act.

Grade: 4/10