Album Review: Blake Shelton, Red River Blue

Blake Shelton

Red River Blue

It’s hard to dispute that Blake Shelton possesses one of the strongest and distinctive male voices in country music today. Likewise, he has proven to be a more than capable interpreter of the songs that he writes and chooses to record. He knows when to sing with soft sensitivity and he knows when to sing loud and hard.

However, his interpretive abilities and vocal prowess does not always translate into the highest quality songs, as has been the major weakness of his last few projects, particularly Startin’ Fires and his two “six-paks.” The trend continues with Red River Blue, even though this album is a solid improvement.

The album wisely kicks things off with the popular lead single, the mid-tempo “Honey Bee.” The positive tune sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which reflects where Shelton is in his life thanks to a finally-exploding career and newly-married status to Miranda Lambert.

Among the other mid-tempos, the bluesy “Ready to Roll” is the most straight arrow. Its rolling baseline is pleasant, infectious and completely inoffensive. “Drink on It” is also a bit bluesy, but carries the line “He sounds like such a prick,” which turns out to be the song’s only memorable aspect. Continuing on the status quo scale, “Good Ole Boys” is pretty much summed up by its title: “Where did all the good ole boys go?” Apparently, good ole boys are synonymous with country boys who are the only people who are polite and hold doors for women and say “Yes, Ma’am.” Shelton’s infamous offbeat humor shows up at the end of the track when he banters, “I’ll even go pick up some of those feminine products for you. That’s what a good ole boy would do.” While the lyrics are inane, the Jennings-influenced arrangement is one of the most sonically satisfying on the album.

As he’s proven on previous albums, some of Shelton’s most memorable and brightest moments are when he fully embraces the ridiculous, which shows up in the form of “Hey” and “Get Some” this time around. Both songs have delightfully funky lyrics and interesting productions. “Hey” more successfully illustrates country living than many other songs of its ilk, the random “baby Jesus” reference notwithstanding. The premise of the charming “Get Some” is reminiscent of Toby Keith’s “Getcha Some”, but with a toned down, tasteful production that showcases engaging honky tonk piano and acoustic guitar solos.

While Shelton has proven capable of elevating substandard songs to higher levels in the past, he is not able to work his magic on most of the ballads on this album. Despite reliably stellar vocals on songs like the quality “Over,” decent comeuppance ballad “I’m Sorry” and the schmaltzy “God Gave Me You,” the tracks are all but ruined by tasteless eighties guitar solos and drum machines that turn them into power ballads rather than good country songs.

Not all of the ballads are mired in bombastic productions, however. In fact, not only does “Red River Blue” make a cool album title, the song with its name happens to be the standout track as well. Because it’s the quietest song on the album, tucked away at the end (not counting the two bonus tracks that include the island-flavored “Chill” and a cover of Dan Seals’ “Addicted), it’s easy to overlook its strength. Along with a subtle production, Miranda Lambert’s quiet background support helps to solidify the song’s mournful tone.

The songs on this album are more than well performed, but the album as a whole is weighed down by some blandness and far too many overwrought productions. While this album is a definite step back in the right direction from Shelton’s last three projects, it still has a long way to go to equal the quality of his first four.

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16 Comments

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16 Responses to Album Review: Blake Shelton, Red River Blue

  1. He’s talented, but I haven’t really liked a Blake Shelton album since he stopped working with Bobby Braddock.

  2. Absolutely. That’s how I feel too. I wish they were still working together, because when they stopped is exactly when I stopped enjoying his music as much.

  3. I love your album reviews, Leeann. Very detailed, but to the point. This one was no exception.

  4. MikeNo Gravatar

    It seems in today’s country music scene that when an artist realizes they have made themselves a namesake amongst fans, they feel the need to go further. Going further to some may mean “selling out” to a “dumbed down” audience. I view it more as a twisting of reality and painting a false picture of who actually comprises your target audience.

    Artist seemingly buy into this industry stereotype that their music, both singles and albums has to drastically change. This change requires them to tone it down a bit; toning it down until the music becomes trite enough that is will properly cater to its new, much larger audience. An audience inclusive of only blithering nomads, lumped together by the exact same common interests, lifestyles and viewpoints. There can little to no variation amongst individuals allowed. Afterall, that’s what makes a stereotype so workable and great, right? This is what some have defined the “dumbing down” proces.

    This audience will make them transform into bona fide radio superstars, king’s and queen’s of the FM dial. This transition from artist to radio artist is (as many have previously seemed to identify) when they start their decline in terms of overall musical quality. The only thing left for vain, rouge outsiders to argue over is the steepness of their decline. Who cares if these outsiders divert from plan, they’ll shill out something of monetary value in the end.

    The rest of these nomadic album buyers, single down-loaders and concert goers can “only handle” “certain styles” of music. Only slight deviation on musical subject matter from single to single, album to album is allowed if you really want to make it big.

    Your material must make a dramatic shift. Ticks and Water instead of Whiskey Lullaby and He Didn’t Have to Be. All About Tonight and Honey Bee instead of Austin and Don’t Make Me.

    Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton are two of seemingly many examples of artists having bought into this industry stereotype as their namesakes grew bigger. Is money the chief motivator, I can’t state that with certainty, but I’d be inclined to think so. Are they completely done recording what the supposed minority pegs as “great musical material”? Not entirely. Do albums like This is Country Music or Red River Blue show definite changes from early works such as Part II or Bar & Grill. I’d say yes!

    The curious case that breaks the stereotype are artists like Alan Jackson or George Strait on the older end of the spectrum and up-and-coming’s like The Band Perry and Chris Young. Do they shatter it to pieces? No they don’t. But the work they seek to put out reflects in a different direction that the industries mirror does. Will their efforts be steamrolled eventually or gain more steam themselves, who knows.

  5. jakeNo Gravatar

    I don’t think that people that go to concerts,buy cd’s and singles, and listen to country radio are dumb! If you don’t like it don’t listen and just because someone likes something you don’t like doesn’t mean they are dumb or can only handle certain types of music. Every artist changes overtime and if they didn’t they would become boring! You either like the change or you don’t, and if you don’t then get over it and move on!

  6. DevinNo Gravatar

    As the resident Blake Shelton fanatic, I do love this album, but I don’t love it as much as I hope’d I would.

    This album got a lot of things right. The novelty tracks (Get Some, Hey) are actually fun and novel. The tracks that have a throwback feel with some outside influences (Ready to Roll, Drink On It) do so successfully and inoffensively. Then there’s the song Sunny in Seattle that sounds just like it’s a cover of an old George Strait song (and I mean that in the best way possible). And as said, the title track itself is just really good.

    But even I don’t like the ballads. All three of them seem to have the same problem, for me. The verses are mostly restrained, especially musically, and then, almost jarringly, the chorus just seems to explode on to you. It’s just TOO much. Over and I’m Sorry don’t seem as overdone as God Gave Me You though. I really thought I liked that song on first listen, but it was because I wasn’t listening enough. It’s just so noisy. And the personal lyrics don’t really seem like they lend themselves to a loud, impersonal song. I pretty much just shake my head every time I’m listening and before the second chorus there’s just a random screaming of “YEAH” in the background.

    I also second the Bobby Braddock comment. Even if he doesn’t produce his entire album, I wouldn’t mind seeing him have a hand in a few of the songs. Pure BS was really good, in my opinion, because it had the tastes of multiple producers on that album, that gave each song a more unique feel.

    I’ll always be left wondering how successful some of his earlier albums, like Pure BS (because that’s probably my favorite), would be if he had his current profile when he released them. Because while I enjoy most everything he puts out, to get a new album in the same vein as his earlier material would make me very happy, indeed.

    Anyway, enough rambling. I think this is better than a 3. But I definitely don’t agree with those saying this is his ‘Revolution’, or that it’s his best album yet, etc. It’s solid, and I still enjoy it.

  7. MikeNo Gravatar

    @Jake

    I’m not the one implying people are dumb. I’m stating that is what the recording industry and FM radio are implying about their core country audience.

  8. ScooterNo Gravatar

    I think Blake is a great Twitter and television personality and so far only a mediocre country music singer. But there are always one or two songs on each album that I really like. The title track is the only one I downloaded on this one.

  9. Blaine JacobsNo Gravatar

    Couldn’t agree more with the review Leeann. I was especially looking forward to this album, along with Chris Young’s Neon, and I was sorely disappointed with both. You could make a solid album if you took the best of Blake Shelton’s work from his past four releases.

  10. lisaNo Gravatar

    i love red river blue. all the songs are good.
    chris young neon is good.

  11. Noah EatonNo Gravatar

    The tone of the review sounds closer to three-and-a-half stars than three stars, to me.

    That said, I largely agree here. And I don’t know to what extent the hubbub regarding how his label was taken aback by the success of “Honey Bee” to the point they rushed to the studio to record the rest of the album for a July release rather than a September one is true………but one can’t help but wonder if we would have gotten a tighter final product if this was indeed more hastily produced.

    I feel Shelton is falling into a Darius Rucker sort of funk………..where he settles with too much banal material artistically but his vocals, at times, can single-handedly save a song and make it somewhat resonant. It’s certainly true with the title track. Just as often as not, though, the songs just don’t offer Shelton enough breathing space to let his vocals shine.

    My advice: download the title track and “Drink on It” (perhaps “Ready to Roll”) but skip the full album purchase.

  12. Noah EatonNo Gravatar

    And to clarify, I do believe the title track is actually one of the few instances that are both well-written and executed.

    “Get Some” would be a more fitting example of a song that is somewhat banal on paper but stands out when performed by Shelton.

  13. Really? I thought it read more like a 3 rather than 3.5. I try to save 3.5 albums for albums that I like better than this one. If anything though, the ballads really weigh this album down. I agree that “Get Some” is executed better than it would look on paper.

  14. bobNo Gravatar

    Excellent review. I finally got around to listening to the i-Tunes preview of the Red River Blue album again. I didn’t care much for it the first time about 10 days ago and a second listen didn’t make me like it any better. While I think that Leeann’s take on Blake’s singing ability in the first paragraph of her review is right on, the mediocre material more than justifies her 3 star rating. If the individual songs were all rated, I don’t see any here that would rate an “A”, including the title track.

  15. The title track had to grow on me. I honestly didn’t like it the first time I listened to the album.

  16. I immediately bought two of this album when it first released. It is one for home and one for my car. I actually have his entire album. He is my second favorite male singer next to Josh Groban. My favorite track from this album is I’m sorry where Martina McBride had been featured. I always play it when I and my wife have a misunderstanding. Isn’t it sweet? Ha-ha! After one decade of singing he still on his good voice. I will be glad if I can see this person in personal. Well Blake Shelton is one of the best singers I know.