When we first heard Kenny Chesney’s version of “Better Boat,” first written and performed by acclaimed songwriter and performer Travis Meadows, and co-written by Liz Rose, we were surprised by the leadership Chesney was showing by recording a song of such substance after his recent output over the last few years. Coupled with Chesney’s cover of John Baumann’s “Gulf Moon” and a few other quality selections, it makes Kenny Chesney’s new album Songs for the Saints arguably one of the best efforts of his career.
However an album cut is one thing, especially in 2018 when most fans don’t even buy records anymore, and instead stream the top singles on Spotify or Apple Music, and ignore the rest. The real test would be if Chesney had the fortitude to release “Better Boat” as a single. After all, it was the final track on Songs for the Saints. Often in the mainstream album formula, the ending song is usually the best song on the record, but the one least likely to perform well commercially or be released as a single.
But following Chesney’s pattern of behavior of being full of surprises when it comes to Songs for the Saints, he’s decided “Better Boat” will be his next single, after the first single from the record “Get Along” reached #1, as did the Songs for the Saints album during its debut week.
“Travis Meadows and Liz Rose really captured that raw edge that comes from being overwhelmed and unsure of how you’re going to get there, but finding the faith to hang on,” Chesney says. “We’ve all been there in one way or another, but it’s the ability to trust what you can’t see when you’re sure you can’t take anymore that is so impossible to find sometimes. They not only put it in a song, but they put it on a song with a melody that feels like everything the song is trying to convey.”
“Better Boat” doesn’t just give a bump to Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, it’s also a duet with another acclaimed country songwriter, Mindy Smith. While most mainstream males are partnering with pop stars as duet partners, Chesney chose to utilize someone within the country genre who could benefit from the recognition. Proceeds from the Songs for the Saints album are also going to benefit hurricane relief efforts for the islands the album is named for.
“Of all the songs on ‘Songs for the Saints,’ ‘Better Boat’ really captures the emotion of that moment – and the months following Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” Chesney says. “There’s an acceptance it takes to face those challenges and all that uncertainty, something I know I’ve never seen in my lifetime. There’s a lyric that goes, ‘I ride the waves I can’t control…’ And that’s exactly how this was, and in some ways, still is.”
With his barrage of beach songs and other missteps over the years such as “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” Chesney became a bulls-eye for many of country music’s purists. And though on the surface Songs for the Saints may seem like much of the same, when you hear a song like “Better Boat,” it’s hard to not recognize that Chesney has gone through a sea change, at least on this album.