February 20, 2009
Blake Shelton has the kind of natural talent and charisma that most performers in Nashville can only dream of. His voice is smooth and strong, sexy yet comforting. It is neither too feminine nor too masculine, thereby making it easily vulnerable enough for the Rascal Flatts crowd, yet tough enough for the Toby Keith crowd. Shelton also stands out as a country traditionalist with pop sensibilities, equally as comfortable with a hootenanny as he is with the torch ballad. And unlike most other artists in recent memory, this natural talent has enabled Shelton to reach the top of the country charts five times, including with his last two singles (“Home” and “She Wouldn’t Be Gone”), without being a household name.
However, despite Shelton’s immense likability and natural talent, when a talented artist appears to be headed on the wrong direction, his fans should stand up and give notice. The second single from Shelton’s recent album, Startin’ Fires, “I’ll Just Hold On,” clearly implicates one of those times. Shelton is infinitely better than this banal single about a girl with a gypsy soul who hangs around just long enough to play with an Oklahoma boy’s heart before moving on. He has tenfold the personality and talent that this prosaic song and standard Nashville country-pop production would have us believe.
As a fan, Shelton’s tendency in recent releases to pander too much to today’s radio audience and make his releases as bland as possible, both musically and lyrically, is worrying. For a consummate stage performer with raunchy charm and a magnetic presence, one must wonder what is happening in the studio. Blake Shelton, the person and performer, is not presently being translated onto his albums. Hopefully, the real Blake Shelton shows up with better material – and puts more of himself into the material – next time around.
Songwriters: Ben Hayslip, Troy Olsen, Bryant Simpson
Listen: “I’ll Just Hold On”