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Album Review: Blake Shelton, Based On a True Story…

Blake-Shelton-based-on-a-true-story

Blake Shelton
Based On a True Story…

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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

good measure.

“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.

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Single Review: Toby Keith, "I Like Girls That Drink Beer"

An awesome throwback that recalls the great class-crossed lovers anthems without borrowing too heavily from them.

Yes, it’s been done before, by John Conlee, Travis Tritt, and Randy Travis, just to name Cheapest viagra usa a few.   The rich girl that falls for the roughneck country boy, who just can’t handle that high society.

Sometimes it has a happy ending, sometimes it doesn’t.   But it always ends on the country boy’s terms.  He’s sticking to his middlebrow lifestyle with or without her.

A fantasy? Of course it is.  But it’s an appealing one that reinforces the intrinsic value of blue collar life, where the vast majority of hardworking men and women never get a ticket out.

Toby Keith’s music was his ticket out, and he’s made millions more than most of his fans will ever see.  But it took him long enough to get there that he can still viscerally connect with his audience, and speak in their voice.

A lesser singer and writer couldn’t pull any of that off.  In fact, most of the guys on the radio today would have built a weak song around the eye-catching title, instead of a strong song which is far more interesting than even its title suggests.

But Keith isn’t just one of the genre’s greatest singers and songwriters.  He’s also one of its smartest.   When he’s at his best, we get songs that celebrate the working man and the country boy without a whiff of condescension or pandering.

This is Toby Keith at his best.

Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson

Grade: A

Listen:  I Like Girls That Drink Beer

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Single Review: Toby Keith, “Beers Ago”

You know what I like about Toby Keith?

He always sings.  No auto-tune, no “let the backup singers do the heavy lifting.” Just real, pure singing.

“Beers Ago” is typical country nostalgia, but there’s a vibrancy to it because of Keith’s skill as a vocalist.  There’s an urgency there that makes it sound like he could sing his way back there, simply by the sheer will of his voice.

And who else could pull of a line about “the man in the moon working his magic on the second runner up of the 4H pageant”?   It’s like he didn’t get the memo that this was a filler track, and he ended up with a solid record.

Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson

Grade: B+

Listen: Beers Ago

 

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Single Review: Toby Keith, “Somewhere Else”

“Somewhere Else” has a groove that is very similar to “Trailerhood”, the lead single from the set that features both songs.

The slightly meatier content of this one likely gives it a longer shelf life.  Keith does breakup about as good as anybody, and he sounds great, as always. I don’t think the guy is capable of turning in a weak vocal performance.

It’s not his best song, but it’s as good as any of his typical radio filler. He’s way overdue for another career record, but this will do for now.

Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson

Grade: B

Listen: Somewhere Else


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