Red River Blue – Blake Shelton (Warner Music, 2011)
Blake Shelton is on a roll right now. There is no doubt about that. With the album release pushed forward by many weeks, he delivers Red River Blue just after his high-profile part in TV singing competition The Voice. Because of this , the album might be the first Blake Shelton record his new fans buy. Will they get a good introduction to Shelton and, by extension, to country music?
Multi-week #1 hit ‘Honey Bee’ kicks things off. It’s cute and serviceable, nicely fitting with previous Shelton releases. ‘Ready to Roll’ is a pretty basic country song, penned by Jim Beavers, Jonathan Singleton and Chris Stapleton, but in the hands of Shelton and producer Scott Hendricks it achieves more. It’s all percussion and vowels, and while still a little too much playing it safe perhaps, this will sound great at volume 11 in the car. Dave Barnes hit ‘God Gave Me You’ will be the second single. The original arrangement was left pretty much intact. Minimal changes come by way of a heavier production. I never liked the forced lyrics (‘you’ll always be love’s great martyr’) but the sweet steel in the background and Shelton’s vocal interpretation save this one.
Pairing a summing up of just about everything with a multi-voice sing-along chorus, cutsie gem ‘Get Some’ (written Zac Maloy, Chris Tompkins and Craig Wiseman) shows a list song can be done well as the ‘you get this, you do that’-structure never grates. With acoustic guitar, dobro, great fiddle and a sprinkling of piano, this tune is irresistible and funny (and 420-friendly…).
Disguised as the token song about how the old days were better, ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ really laments the decline of old-fashioned courteous men. It’s a bit of a shame it still uses the same old references to farms, bars and the military; potential proof that writer Dallas Davidson really cannot help himself. But I defy anyone not to at least smile at the spoken outro.
Further establishing his strength as a vocalist, ‘I’m Sorry’, (from the pens of Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley, Chris Stapleton) pairs Shelton with Martina McBride. He gets more company on ‘Red River Blue’, the closing track written by Ray Stephenson and Buddy Owens, where he is joined by wife Miranda Lambert.
Very cleverly written ‘Hey’ is Shelton at his best. Writers Clint Lagerberg, Chris Tompkins and Craig Wiseman had fun with wordplay. A potential radio hit.
Two songs are standing out in the wrong direction: chat-up song ‘Drink on It’ is just too overdone. The ‘on it’-ending phrases get a little too much but the switch to the female voice in the outro is a great way to resolve the story being told. And while it’s catchy, the summing up of unlikely situations in the chorus of ‘Sunny in Seattle’ was done better before in Brad Paisley’s ‘I’ll Take You Back’. The song is all chorus as the verses add very little extra.
Blake Shelton confirms that when you really are ‘country’, there is no need to keep shouting about it (compare and contrast with Justin Moore’s latest offering). After choosing material which didn’t challenge him at all, this album has enough diversity to hold something for pretty much any country fan. It still very safely fits within the boundaries of country radio, but that’s not automatically a bad thing.
Red River Blue shows Shelton has reached the point in his career where he does exactly what he wants. Well put-together, greatly executed and (mostly) well-written. Regardless of what you think of his public image, Red River Blue is a confident, contemporary country album which will cement Blake Shelton’s country superstar status.