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Blake Shelton, ‘Red River Blue’ – Album Review

Red River Blue
Warner Music Nashville

Blake Shelton had to rush the recording of his new album ‘Red River Blue’ to capitalize on his time on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ and the success of the album’s lead single ‘Honey Bee.’ The song catapulted to the top of the charts in just 10 weeks, and Shelton sold roughly one-gazillion singles. In between all of that, the singer fit in a wedding to Miranda Lambert and a honeymoon.

Shelton works well under pressure. There isn’t a moment amongst the 11 songs on ‘Red River Blue’ — in stores today, July 12 — that’s taken for granted. His vocal performance on ballads like ‘I’m Sorry’ and ‘God Gave Me You‘ is as good as anything the Oklahoma born singer has done. But it’s the ability to find songs that fit him like a tailored Oscar de la Renta that’s nurturing Shelton’s transition from star to superstar.

The title track (featuring Lambert) is a perfect example. The Red River runs south of Shelton’s hometown of Ada, Okla., creating a natural border with Texas. Songwriters Ray Stephenson and Buddy Owens use it as an allegory for everything that’s gone wrong in the storyteller’s love life: “Red river blue / God pull me through / I’d walk through fire if that bridge hadn’t burned in two / Tex-oma sky / Tears in my eye / She said goodbye / And now I’m red river blue.” Perhaps one day the two will explain how Shelton stumbled upon a song so perfectly suited for his rollercoaster love life. The imagery is as wild and beautiful as the paintings painted in ‘She Couldn’t Be Gone’ and ‘Austin.’ If it ends up a radio single, ‘Red River Blue’ should be a song of the year nominee.

Other tracks like ‘Ready to Roll’ are more playful, but still sneak in lyrics like ‘We’re gonna burn all afternoon / Like it’s something to smoke.” The Motown bass line on this track, and Shelton’s tip of the hat to Waylon Jennings on ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ — not the Jennings tune, but a tribute nonetheless — are two places Shelton steps beyond his comfort zone, and both break up the album nicely.

If there’s a low point it’s ‘Hey,’ a song that explores the many homonyms of the word “Hey,” and ‘Get Some,’ which sounds like a collection of postings from Shelton’s Twitter page. “Everybody’s livin’ / Everybody’s tryin’ / Everybody’s dying to get some.” There are far too many unique and infectious moments on the album to drown in those shallow waters, however. ‘Red River Blue’ is Shelton hitting a homerun in a clutch situation as the eyes of the country music world are bearing down on him.

5 Stars

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