Searing sounds of amplified destruction make their way into the atmosphere at the command of Shane Smith & the Saints in “Heaven Knows,” the first track in their new album, Hail Mary. “We set our sails for deeper seas, heaven knows what we will find,” croons the always-amazing Smith in the chorus of the track, a stampede of strings chasing after his every word. The excitement is just getting started as we transition into the upbeat swing of “Whirlwind,” which breaks off some of the catchiest beats you’re going to hear all summer in the four minutes and twenty two seconds that it lasts in total. “Oklahoma City” rounds out the opening trio of wild red dirt rhythm with a glowing, albeit heart-wrenching, lead vocal from our star, who I think is shining his brightest in the ballads found on this record.
“Parliament Smoke” gets Hail Mary back on a rock-influenced track after an extensive introduction that provides the perfect segue into the oncoming storm of string grooves and bassline harmonies. The title track comes out swinging harder than a drunk staggering away from a bar fight, only with a much more concise and focused rhythm than any amount of intoxication could inspire. It’s a hard act to follow, but Smith brilliantly launches into the soft and supple “Little Bird” in the ashes of those fiery riffs left behind by Hail Mary’s namesake song. This acoustic number slows down the pace a bit, and gives us a second to catch our breath before sending us into the effortlessly surreal sounds of “We Were Something.”
“We Were Something” and “We’ll Never Know” are two songs that, by themselves, justify acquiring Hail Mary this season. The vocal in both of these tracks is crystal clear but beset with a marvelous melodic backdrop that is just as emotional as any of the words Smith is singing are. “The Hardest Part” is probably the most evocative elegy in this album, and still, it makes the most of its minimalist design in warming up the icy substance of its harmonies. Serious audiophiles could spend a lot of time dissecting each one of these songs, but for those of us who simply like to chill out with a country melody that isn’t overproduced or weighed down with a lot of bells and whistles, this is an absolutely unbeatable summer LP.
Hail Mary nears the finish line with the relaxed rhythm of “Last Train to Heaven,” and in “The End,” Smith lyrically brings us full-circle to where we first began in “Heaven Knows” whilst solidifying the narrative of the record in a showstopper of a chorus that will stay in your head long after this album has stopped playing. Shane Smith & the Saints are the talk of the country music world right now, and if you want to learn why, I would tell you to get your hands on a copy of Hail Mary as soon as possible. It’s an anthology of Americana and red dirt redemption, and it has definitely made my best country records of 2019 list for sure.