Release Date: Jul 12, 2011
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Country, Contemporary Country
Blake Shelton is probably the most famous country singer in America right now - but not for his music. As the handsome, heart-on-sleeve papa bear of The Voice, NBC's hit American Idol knockoff, Shelton is the butch Southern analog to Idol's Steven Tyler: cracking wise, hooting for his teammates, eyes welling up when he describes how close he feels to them. As gossip-mag readers know, he's married to Miranda Lambert, the most gifted woman to hit country's mainstream in a decade.
Where did all the good ole boys go? Blake Shelton asks that question on Red River Blue, but maybe he should answer it himself. Over the past year, the rebel-flag-flyin’, moonshine-spittin’, yee-haw-shoutin’ Okie from 2010’s Hillbilly Bone and All About Tonight has settled down, with a steady job judging NBC’s The Voice and a marriage to fellow crooner Miranda Lambert. Newly nesting and fresh from his pop-crossover hit ”Honey Bee,” he’s lost some rascal magnetism, but he’s winning sweetness points, harmonizing with the missus on the title track, offering to make dip for her ”tater chips,” and insisting, ”Let other fools go paint the town / We’ll just hold this sofa down.” Spoken like a true domestic outlaw.
Back in 2010, Blake Shelton and the shrewd A&R department at Warner Nashville gambled with a new format, releasing Shelton's singles, "Hillbilly Bone" and "All About Tonight," as separate "six pack" EPs (five other tracks filled each of them out, creating one full-length album in two installments). It paid off. Both singles were hits, and fans bought the EPs in droves.
As a celebrity, Blake Shelton has cultivated a sense of humor and a friendly but slightly naughty playfulness through interviews, Twitter, and as host/mentor on the TV singing program The Voice. That side of him occasionally shows on his albums – you don’t name an album Pure BS completely seriously – but more so on last year’s Six-Pak (EP) releases, which yielded three #1 singles in a row, starting with the bawdy “Hillbilly Bone” and night-on-the-town anthem “All About Tonight”. He always throws a few goofy party and backwoods good-ol-boy songs into his act, but love and heartbreak ballads have dominated.
Much like the two EPs Blake Shelton released in 2010, Hillbilly Bone and All About Tonight, Red River Blue proves that he’s a capable singer who chooses to sing some lackluster songs. Since Shelton only writes a small percentage of his material, his records live or die based on his song selection, and Red River Blue falls into many of the same traps—strident, country-cred posturing and bloated pop ballads—that have made his previous albums underwhelming. Lead single “Honey Bee” doesn’t make a hell of a lot of literal sense, as it hinges on pairing things that are supposed to scan as complementary but really don’t (“You be my sugar, baby/I’ll be your sweet iced tea”), yet Shelton sells the song with gusto.
Whether or not Blake Shelton is in fact “the most interesting man in country music,” as his tongue-in-cheek promotional campaign claims, is debatable. But he indisputably is having a career year: Crowned CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, he had a digital platinum single with his multi-week Number 1 hit, “Honey Bee;” he became a household name thanks to his starring role as one of the four vocal coaches on NBC’s hit show, “The Voice,” (which has been renewed for a second season); and, of course, he married reigning CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Miranda Lambert. His new album, Red River Blue should do nothing to slow his momentum.