Unapologetic and true to the aesthetic of ancient Americana, the guitar that breathes life into the otherwise stoic intro of “Oklahoma City” is not unlike the sparkling strings that come into focus when “Last Train to Heaven” starts up. Fiddles and electric fretwork make for a perfectly melodic match in “Whirlwind,” but they don’t minimize the impact of the stately but simple “We’ll Never Know” for a minute. Shane Smith & the Saints’ new album Hail Mary is like a patchwork of uniquely American fabrics; strands of country, rock n’ roll, soul and folk are woven into a beautiful blanket of musicality in Hail Mary, but for as multidimensional an effort as it is, it’s ironically one of the more accessible and unfanciful to be released this June.
The drum parts in “We’ll Never Know,” “Hail Mary” and “The End” are simply chilling, and I think that without the strong percussive backbone that this record enjoys, it wouldn’t sport quite as fluid a tracklist. This is Shane Smith’s gig, but the Saints give just as remarkable showcase in all eleven of the songs included on this disc. They set up the cathartic break in the chorus of tracks like “Heaven Knows” and “Oklahoma City” brilliantly, and curb their musical excesses in a fashion that I could only hope to see replicated in alternative rock and pop music this summer. These guys know who they are, and perhaps even more importantly, the type of sound that they can dish out better than anyone else in their scene can.
The title track, “Last Train to Heaven,” “Whirlwind” and “We Were Something” were all mixed with so much clarity in the definition of their individual parts that they could almost pass for live performance. If even a tenth of the energy that Smith & the Saints boast in this LP translates onto the stage well in future shows, then I think that their status as some of the most disciplined country players currently in the game is going to continue to go on, without debate, well into the 2020s. They’ve got a freewheeling spirit about them in Hail Mary, and try as their closest rivals might, this is one record that is going to be pretty hard to top before the year is out.
Hail Mary is a must-listen album for fans of modern indie country as well as those who simply enjoy an all-American groove every now and then. Shane Smith proves himself to be a contemporary steward of the Americana legacy in this record, and though he’s never disappointed supporters nor music journalists like myself with his erudite approach to songwriting, he’s stretching his artistic legs in Hail Mary with a youthful energy that is a bit of a rarity among musicians who are as deep into their careers as he is. Together with the Saints, he’s in the right position to close out the 2010s on a high note, and for me personally, these are far and away the most honest and endearing songs that he and his awesomely skilled band have committed to master tape so far.