Four years after they rocked audiences internationally with the sumptuous Geronimo LP, Shane Smith & the Saints are back and better than ever before in Hail Mary. Hail Mary takes all of the experimental edge in Geronimo to the next level, amplifying subtle intricacies with grandeur and adding in marvelous lyrical statements to match. From “Heaven Knows” to “The End,” there isn’t any nonsensical alternative nattering to skip over in this record; there’s only rock-solid songwriting, sensible but addictive hooks, and top shelf harmonies that will melt the hardest of hearts this summer and beyond.
There isn’t any unutilized space in this master mix; the strings, percussion, even the bushier basslines are tightly arranged in a chic, unfiltered manner that allows for us to appreciate every element of any given song, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Everything is oversized here – whether we’re talking about the smashing chorus in “We’ll Never Know,” the visceral stomp of “Oklahoma City” or the grind of its title track, Hail Mary is as big as the Lone Star State, but it somehow avoids all of the pitfalls that come with overindulgent songwriting. Shane Smith is operating like the seasoned pro that he is on this album, and playing red dirt country the way it was always meant to be played.
The guitars rip through anything that gets in the way of the band in “Heaven Knows,” “Parliament Smoke” and the solo in “Last Train to Heaven,” and more often than not attract just as much of our attention as Smith’s lyrical lashings do. Despite the raw vitality in his vocal, there are some things that not even the most gifted of singers can convey through words alone, which is where this sublime string play comes in. It gives emotive context to every verse we hear, and makes Smith’s poetry even more relatable than it would have been on its own.
Hail Mary, at times, has a progressive undertow that makes its songs feel like chapters in a much larger tale being told by this group. “The End,” “The Hardest Part” and “We Were Something” are obvious examples of Smith getting confessional with his lyrics, but they’re joined by eight more tracks that collectively tell us the story of the band, and perhaps more importantly, the country that has inspired some of their most enthralling work. They might not have been intending to do so, but what Shane Smith & the Saints have created in Hail Mary is much more than just a surreal successor to Geronimo; it’s a commentary about life in, and an undying love of, a place called America.
I wasn’t completely sure that they would be able to surpass the brilliance of their last album in this latest LP, but these songs have convinced me that there’s no stopping the skillful hand of Shane Smith & the Saints. They’re living up to all of the hype that surrounded the release of Hail Mary, and though the summer is nowhere even close to being over, I have a feeling that come September, this is going to be among the most well-regarded records of the season.