Blake Shelton has always been a gold-selling artist, not a platinum seller. It’s not that his albums weren’t very good, they were, but they never felt complete. He struggled with his identity as an artist and tried to play out to many sides of himself for his fans. It looks like settling down and marrying Miranda Lambert changed all of that, as “Red River Blue” is his strongest album to date.
“Red River Blue” is Blake Shelton’s “Revolution.” Get ready to hear much, much more of him the next two years. His new album, available for free streaming right now on his website for the weekend, is the most complete effort he’s ever put forward. It rocks. Instead of playing the part like he did on albums past, he actually feels and understands the words in every song. He’s comfortable. With “Honey Bee” looking like it’ll hit a fifth week at number one on Mediabase, Shelton is about to dominate the country music world. Hope you weren’t sick of him yet. This is a definite nominee for album of the year at next year’s Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association award shows.
The catchy, and sweet opening single, “Honey Bee,” sets the mood for the rest of the album. It’s a Summer-feel to kick off the record, which is full of single potential on eight of the eleven radio-ready tracks. His four-week number one hit might not be the best release of his career, but it introduces fans to the new side of Shelton: the happy, in love, but still playful Oklahoman. His voice is smooth, but it’s not a single that pushes his boundaries. It’s cute, a little silly, but catchy. Even his wedding in May to Texan Miranda Lambert played off of this single, with light-up signs of bees around a mason jar.
“God Gave Me You” is the second single off of the album, and the third track. Shelton came across the tune on a Christian radio station while driving in Oklahoma in his truck after a fight with his now-wife. It hit him like a brick, and he found himself having to record the Dave Barnes hit. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of this song, it’s a little different than what I would expect coming from the redneck-and-proud singer. It’s almost too pop for something Shelton would record, but it works. It has a different sound to it than what else is currently on the radio. After a few listens, it’s rocking, although I feel there were stronger candidates for the follow-up single on the album. It doesn’t matter, whatever Shelton releases is a number one lately.
“Get Some” is a funny, tongue-in-cheek, classic Shelton song that takes some getting used to. With every line in the song starting off with “get,” it’ll be a tongue twister for Shelton to perform live. It’s a novelty party song, different from his other get-drunk-and-party anthems (“All About Tonight”, “The More I Drink”). It’s a comedic tune that’ll do good on radio that doesn’t expect anything else from the hillbilly. It’s a song only Shelton could pull off, which gets better the more you listen to it.
“Drink On It” is my favorite off of this album. It’s a smooth, easy listening story where he tells the woman that they can figure things out over another drink. It’s my pick for a future single from “Red River Blue,” which has many. It’s the kind of song that fits in perfectly beside a Zac Brown Band summer tune. His vocals are good on the track, which is a perfect driving song. It’s a pretty track that will easily climb the charts. While there’s nothing surprising vocally in “Drink On It,” it’s a solid addition to the album. It needs to be the third or fourth single. Plus, who else can sing “prick” in a song but make it sound pretty?
“Good Ole Boys” is a toe-tapping ode to Shelton’s earlier albums. It’s his album staple to have a country folk versus city folk rally song. This is another one, and could have fit in on any of his older albums. It’s not that it isn’t good, but there’s nothing surprising about the track which should be better live than it is on the album. The best part of the song is when he admits he’ll pick up some “feminine products for ya.” It’s a little silly, but still cute. On earlier albums it may have been a highlight, but the other songs on “Red River Blue” are just so much better.
“I’m Sorry” is the breakout track of the album. Shelton has had this song in his back pocket for a while, unsure if he could hold his own up to the vocals needed on the song. He called in friend Martina McBride to help him out with the explosive chorus, which was a perfect call. Her haunting backing vocals just add even more to the future single. Shelton nailed it. He pushed his boundaries and challenged himself on the track which will be huge for him if released to radio. The power ballad is probably Shelton’s best to date. It sounds like he feels what he’s singing, instead of just playing the part and that goes a long way.
“Hey” is the song that I’m not too sure what to think of. While it’s been a fan favorite of the last year when Shelton opens with it, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the overall mood and theme of the album. It’s like he fit in a track to prove that he can still be a rowdy, funny character. I give him props for putting in a song that fans have been begging to be recorded since he started singing it live, it’s the only average track on an otherwise 5 star album.
“Red River Blue” closes out the album with backing vocals from his new-wife, Miranda Lambert. In fact, the song was written with the couple in mind, focusing on a relationship between a Texan woman and an Oklahoman man that has come to an end. The sad, slow ballad is a heart breaker and I fell in love with it when Country Weekly had the exclusive preview of the track up on their website at the start of last week. Before hearing the rest of the album, I was calling for it to be a single. Maybe not as single worthy of the rest of the album, after hearing it in its entirety, it’s still a beautiful, haunting track. Again, Shelton feels what he sings and the pain is believable, not over-the-top or faked.
“Red River Blue” is a solid, contemporary country album. It’s easily the strongest effort of Shelton’s career, and the opening sales numbers on Tuesday should hit the roof. This will be the biggest CD of Blake’s rising career. It really is that good. “Red River Blue” is a must-buy if you’re into music for driving, for the beach, or just something easy to listen to. If you’re into Americana or honky tonk country this may not be your favorite new purchase.
DOWNLOAD: “I’m Sorry,” “Drink On It,” “Honey Bee.”
RATING: 9.5 out of 10
POTENTIAL: should debut at #1