TERRY GROSS, host:
Country singer Blake Shelton has found a new level of fame as one of the judges on the hit TV singing competition "The Voice." But he's also just scored his fourth consecutive number one country hit with the song "Honey Bee" from his just-released album "Red River Blue."
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the album.
(Soundbite of song, "Honey Bee")
Mr. BLAKE SHELTON (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Girl I been thinkin' 'bout us, and you know I ain't good at this stuff. But these feelings piling up won't give me no rest. This might come out a little crazy, a little sideways, yeah maybe. I don't know how long it'll take me, but I'll do my best.
If you'll be my soft and sweet, I'll be your strong and steady. You be my glass of wine. I'll be your shot of whiskey. You be my sunny day. I'll be your shady tree. You be my honeysuckle. I'll be your honey bee.
KEN TUCKER: Blake Shelton had released a number of albums before appearing as a vocal coach on "The Voice," the ridiculous but wildly popular new singing competition reality TV show. Before "The Voice," Shelton was a familiar voice on country radio, but he wasn't really a star personality the way, say, contemporaries such as Brad Paisley or Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw have become. I don't know how Shelton felt about that, but to me, this lack of an easily pigeonholed personality worked in his artistic favor. On any given Blake Shelton album, there's a wider range of styles than most stars venture to attempt.
(Soundbite of song, "God Gave Me You")
Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) I've been a walking heartache. I've made a mess of me. The person that I've been lately ain't who I wanna be. But you stay here right beside me and watch as the storm glows through, and I need you.
'Cause God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. And so when I think I've lost my way, there are no words here left to say. It's true. God gave me you.
TUCKER: From the jaunty bliss of the hit single that led off this review, "Honey Bee," to the more solemn bliss of song I just played, "God Gave Me You," Shelton sings in an unaffected straightforwardness. He stands in the tradition of 1980s country vocalists such as Earl Thomas Conley, Keith Whitley, Vern Gosdin and even laid-back Don Williams, guys who weren't pushing an agenda or an outlaw image. Shelton can take a rather ordinary piece of novelty material such as "Hay" and give it the kind of conversational intimacy that lifts its good-natured tunefulness up a notch.
(Soundbite of song, "Hay")
Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) Hey, hey, I'm out here bailin' hay. And all my friends are cruisin' 'round town, checkin' out the pretty girls. Hey. And what do they say? They say hey, hey. Park that Deere, come out and play. Kick that tire, wipe my perspire, 'cause my whole life is hay.
Growin' like weeds, stick out your teeth. Playin'...
TUCKER: Shelton's insistence upon roaming across various genres - from cornpone to power ballads - along with his deceptively tossed-off vocal manner, have led some to dismiss him as an aimless dabbler. People - like me, for sure - who are suspicious of TV sing-off shows such as "The Voice" initially suspected a hack in the making. Instead, Shelton overturned expectations by outshining his fellow judge/coaches by becoming a real country TV personality, in the grand old manner of Jimmy Dean, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Roger Miller. He was funny yet assertive, unpredictable and playful. That demeanor has spilled over into his new music, as well.
(Soundbite of song, "Get Some")
Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) You get up. You get coffee. You get paid. You get off. You get gas. You get beer. You get drunk. You get weird. You get drove home. You get up thrown.
You get hungry. You get chicken. Your guitar needs pickin'. You get tan. You get pale. You get sick. You get well. You get dressed up. You get messed up.
Everybody say God almighty, it's Friday. Everybody gets sideways to have a little fun. Everybody's livin'. Everybody's tryin'. Everybody's dyin' to get some.
TUCKER: I suspect that, at bottom, Blake Shelton thinks of himself as a country crooner, essentially a singer of ballads who branches out to suit his ornery restlessness. His recent marriage to one of country music's best firecrackers, Miranda Lambert, isn't just a good PR story. It sets up the potential, down the road, for what could be a great country duet album in the tradition of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. In the meantime, this album "Red River Blue" delivers on the idea of Blake Shelton as a country everyman who's never ordinary.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the Blake Shelton's new album "Red River Blue."
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