Based On a True Story…
Bear in mind that Blake Shelton isn’t just another country singer. He is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for both the ACM and CMA Awards, as well as the CMA Entertainer of the Year. Due to his position as a judge on “The Voice,” he is one of the most recognizable country stars around. Therefore, his new album Based on a True Story… isn’t just another album release. It’s an event. It’s a highly anticipated occasion. So how does Shelton kick off this record?
Backwoods, legit, don’t take no s***
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.
Those words of wisdom come from “Boys ‘Round Here,” the opening track and one of the worst country songs of recent memory, even by the relative low standards of country-rap. Sexist, crude and jam-packed with country stereotypes, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved, including Shelton, the songwriters (Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Craig Wiseman) the Pistol Annies who sing background vocals and even the guy who says “red red red red red red red red redneck.”
That’s the low-water mark for the album, though it’s certainly a harbinger for what comes after. For all the references to country songs and country living scattered throughout, it’s largely pop music, with some R&B and adult contemporary elements thrown in the mix. In other words, it’s an ideal country album for people who like Shelton as a famous personality but don’t really care for country music. The two most traditional-sounding songs (as well as two of the best songs) are available in the download- only deluxe version, so anyone who wants to avoid anything sounding like actual country music can easily do so.
There are plenty of other country singers who are employing pop sounds to reach a wider audience, so Shelton isn’t alone in that regard. The problem with True Story is that the songs are so pedestrian and unmemorable. “Sure Be Cool if You Did” and “My Eyes” are essentially the same song about picking up a woman, though at least the cheesy pickup lines are different. “Small Town Big Time” is essentially the same song as half of Jason Aldean’s back catalog – the bad half – with some Auto-Tuned verses thrown in for
“Country on the Radio” deserves special mention because it attempts to justify all of the hokey, redneck-centric songs that have clogged up the country charts for the last few years. Why are they all about dirt roads, pretty girls on tailgates and homemade wine? Because that’s how country folks roll, of course. That’s not exactly a compliment – country songs are so simplistic and shallow because country people really are that simplistic and shallow.
“I Still Got a Finger” is one of the few instances where the feisty Blake Shelton of old – before he became famous outside of country music circles – makes an appearance. Still, it has the feel of being forced, as if it was made to highlight Shelton’s smartass, uncensored Twitter personality without being too rude for a large audience.
“Grandaddy’s Gun,” written by Atkins, Davidson, and Bobby Pinson, is one of the highlights of True Story. Without pushing one side of the gun control debate like an Aaron Lewis or Charlie Daniels would do, Shelton sings about the sentimental value of an old battered shotgun and demonstrates that he is still an outstanding country singer when he wants to be. He does the same on “Mine Would Be You” from the dependable Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan.
Shelton infamously said in his “old farts and jackasses” interview that kids don’t want to listen to their grandpa’s music and that country music has to evolve in order to survive. If that’s true, then this is the evolution of country music. It’s slick and mainstream-friendly, with Top 40 appeal. It features pop songs about how wonderful country living is. It’s occasionally raucous, but not enough to offend a focus group. It has some traditional country elements, but those are on album tracks that can easily be skipped over or not downloaded. If you happen to remember the great Blake Shelton songs like “Ol’ Red” and “Austin,” you’re clearly too old for this new country music.