"Songs for the Saints"
BOTTOM LINE Finding inspiration and purpose in catastrophe.
Kenny Chesney isn’t necessarily known for his depth.
The superstar has amassed 39 No. 1 country hits and sold more than 35 million albums by charmingly championing the escapist lifestyle of “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems.”
But sometimes reality even intrudes on Chesney’s No Shoes Nation, as it did when Hurricane Irma crashed into the Caribbean at Category 5 strength last year, seriously damaging Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, including the Virgin Islands that Chesney calls home.
“Songs for the Saints” (Warner Music Nashville) is the album born from that disaster, a benefit for Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation, which provides disaster relief for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
The title track is a love letter to the lifestyle on those islands and a tribute to the resilience of the people who live there. It’s simple, and Chesney at times sounds uncharacteristically shaky, an outgrowth of him writing it while the storm was battering the area. “Love for Love City” is more hopeful, a reggae-tinged anthem featuring Ziggy Marley that reminds Love City, the nickname for St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, that it will not be forgotten.
Chesney finds inspiration in songs from other artists, including Sag Harbor’s Jimmy Buffett, who guests on Chesney’s tender version of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” He plays up the island undertones of Lord Huron’s dreamy, but defiant “Ends of the Earth.”
And he drafts Nesconset native Mindy Smith to provide gorgeous harmonies on the forward-looking acoustic beauty “Better Boat.”
Chesney’s artistic stretch may not give him his usual collection of chart-toppers, though the unifying single “Get Along” seems destined to give him his 40th No. 1 hit and “We’re All Here” is built to be a fan favorite at his stadium shows. However, “Songs for the Saints” is about so much more than that, a way for Chesney to work his way through the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.