July 23, 2011
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.