Album Review – Willie Nelson’s ‘My Way’

Willie Nelson proved long ago he is one of the greatest artists of all-time. Yet every year he continues to release multiple projects into his 80s. He has nothing to prove and makes music at this point simply because he’s damn good at it and enjoys it. It’s pretty amazing to watch a proven artist put out more music trying to prove himself than modern artists who never write like they’re trying to prove something and just play it safe. On Willie’s latest project My Way he’s chosen to cover his old friend and legendary Frank Sinatra’s classic songs. It’s sort of a follow-up to Nelson’s classic album Stardust, where he proved how well jazz and country can be fused together. The album is so appropriately titled, as Willie Nelson exemplifies as much as anyone the importance of doing things your own way.

The album opens with the springy and upbeat “Fly Me to the Moon.” The horn section and the piano along with Mickey Raphael’s signature harmonica play make for the perfect sunny day song. “Summer Wind” feels like the perfect song for this time of the year, as the season turns from summer into fall. Songs such as “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and “Blue Moon” don’t feel much different from Willie’s numerous heartbreak drinking songs over the years. The commonalities between country and jazz are quite apparent when you break it down and you realize while two genres can sound the same, both can do a beautiful job of conveying something.

Willie does an admirable job keeping up with the jaunty “A Foggy Day,” crooning with ease along with the bright horns and melody. Credit to producers Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings for nailing the jazz country sound that compliments Willie’s voice well throughout the album. “I’ll Be Around” and “Young at Heart” feel like songs that would have fit well on his album Last Man Standing he released earlier this year, with their stark takes on more somber subjects. Willie brings the enthusiasm and tenderness to give a real light to the love song “Night and Day.” He also sounds great with Norah Jones on the love duet “What Is This Thing Called Love.” This isn’t the first time the two have sang together, as they covered “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 2010. With Jones being a successful jazz artist herself and Willie having a lot of experience with the genre, it’s no surprise they pair together well. The album’s conclusion with the title track couldn’t be a more perfect bow on the album. The songs reflective nature and acknowledgement of a life lived just fits Nelson in this time of his career like a glove.

Like Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson has certainly done it his way. I think “Ol’ Blue Eyes” would be pretty proud of the job Willie has done with My Way, doing Sinatra’s songs the justice they deserve. With the silly boycotts some have staged against Nelson for his support of Beto O’Rourke in Texas, it’s actually brought the album even more attention and sales. I’m glad because this is an album you shouldn’t dismiss due it being covers. Any time Willie Nelson releases new music, it’s worth listening to and My Way proves this yet again.

Grade: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: My Way, Summer Wind, Fly Me to the Moon, A Foggy Day, What Is This Thing Called Love, Young at Heart

Producers: Buddy Cannon & Matt Rollings

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

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’s Top Highlights: Better Boat, Gulf Moon, Ends of the Earth, Island Rain, Love for Love City, Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

Producers: Kenny Chesney & Buddy Cannon

Songwriters: Kenny Chesney, Tom Douglas, Scooter Carusoe, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, Jon Randall, Ben Schneider, John Baumann, Mac McAnally, Jimmy Buffett, Casey Beathard, David Lee Murphy, Travis Meadows, Liz Rose