2014 CD REVIEW
BRINGING BACK THE SUNSHINE (WARNER)
GIRLS, CARS AND A PISTOL
“How to steal daddy's car, park if far from her house/ and throwing rocks at her window till she's sneaking out/ how to get a college kid to get you good stuff/ mix a perfect drink in a Sonic cup.” - A Girl - Abe Stoklasa-Sarah Buxton-Jessi Alexander.
Oklahoma superstar Blake Shelton thrives on controversy - especially tabloid tremors about his relationship with singing spouse Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies.
Criticism about him not writing new songs flows over him like the contents of his Ada hometown water tower on the cover of his 11th album Bringing Back The Sunshine.
Shelton said he didn't write any songs because, between touring and his Voice roles, he doesn't have time.
He can't remember writing since he and Lambert wrote Over You - the mourning ballad about his late brother that won the 2012 Country Music Association's song of the year award.
He will also cop flack for recording mainstream tunes that reflect his penchant for giving his middle-America audience what they want.
It's no surprise his entrée on the Scott Hendricks produced disc is the positive love paean title track penned by Jess Leary and Anthony Smith.
Yes, there are weather metaphors for storms and rain being replaced by a rainbow as the narrator rides a lightning stampede at the wheel of his redemptive vehicle.
And, of course, that segues into his first single Neon Light, replete with loops.
You've guessed it - “there's a neon light at the end of the tunnel” as the character emerges from driving around, “cranking up a little country gold heartbreak” washed down with a chaser of new love.
The formula works so current single Lonely Tonight - his duet with Lambert's Pistol Annie pal Ashley Monroe - finds waves of lachrymose lava flowing into another fertile font of romantic rebirth.
Shelton milks aural radio waves as his vibrant vehicle for resurrected romance in Gonna - penned by prolific hit writers Luke Laird and Craig Wiseman.
But the character in A Girl chances his arm by stealing his dad's car and throwing rocks at his Cinderella's window so they can elope for adolescent love, fuelled by equal doses of liquor and lust.
The tale is spun by Sarah Buxton, Jessie Alexander and their male partner in rhyme - Abe Stoklasa.
Shelton sips from the tropical terrain travelled by Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown for southern stimulants in Sangria .
The singer adds corn to the brew in Buzzin' featuring one of his Voice discoveries Rae Lynn Woodward, 20, “sipping them suds and hanging with my buds/ speaking of buds, who's got a light?”
We can blame Wiseman and his writing partner Kendall Marvel for that - maybe a beer jingle will follow.
Shelton again adds whiskey mix in Wiseman's Just South Of Heaven where combatants find bliss “somewhere just beyond the Jericho line/ little white church road back through the pines.”
He resists libations and temptations of Johnny Walker Red and Malboro cigarettes and warnings of a TV preacher in I Need My Girl.
EARL THOMAS CONLEY TULSA RADIO WAVES
“Shotgun in my daddy's truck/ eight years old and acting tough/ he smiled at me and said shift your gears/ he would search that FM dial/ and I would count down every mile/ till that station out in Tulsa came in clear/ it was Earl Thomas Conley on the radio/ it punched me in the gut man, it rattled my soul.” - Good Country Song - Tommy Lee James-Matt Jenkins-Jessi Alexander.
Academy of Country Music song of the year winner Jessi Alexander has written songs specifically for Shelton .
She co-penned Good Country Song with Tommy Lee James and Matt Jenkins - they wrote about Shelton 's favorite singer Earl Thomas Conley and his native Oklahoma .
"I swear to God, you'd think she was in the house with me growing up," Shelton said.
"It's my story."
Shelton he rides off with a vengeance into the sunset and moonshine midnight rodeo with band mates and “liquored up lovers and barroom fighters” in his fiery finale Just Getting Started .
SHELTON – IN HIS OWN WORDS
“Anyone else would shake my hand/ wish me luck, be proud for a friend/ but a jealous sky won't shelter the sun/ when it feels threatened by everyone/ yeah anyone else would open the door/ help me find what I was looking for/ but when you smile there's always a catch/ like I don't earn everything I have.” - Anyone Else - Luke Laird-Barry Dean-Natalie Hemby.
Shelton confessed he was trying to revert to his rural roots in small town Ada.
"When life goes so fast, if you just pause for a minute and look back, you go, 'Man, I got very far away from what I used to sound like,' '' added Shelton who initially hit country charts at the start of the new millennium with story songs Austin, Ol' Red and The Baby.
"You should do whatever you need to do as an artist to push yourself. For me, I want to sing all kinds of songs. But it's been 13 years since my first album came out. It just felt like time to throw back to that sound."
Neon Light is the kind of honky tonk song Shelton hasn't released as a single since 2007's The More I Drink .
"That chorus is my best impersonation of George Strait ," Shelton said.
"I think it's important to take a step back every now and then and see what direction you're going in. I just felt like it was important for me to give those fans who may have bought my first three or four albums something to get pumped about again.
I've always been one of those guys who would say, 'I like so and so, but I like his early stuff better.' I kinda want to be the guy that steps up and gives them something more reminiscent of that early stuff and mix it in with what I do now."
Anyone Else is an unusually vulnerable song for Shelton who favours "fun or sexy or stories."
It appears to be directed at another artist, or someone in the music industry, but is one subject on which Shelton is close-lipped.
"Nobody will ever know who I'm singing about whenever I'm singing that song," he says.
"I'm a guy. I can't cry, but I was blown away. I've been the guy that couldn't figure out why I couldn't get respect. No one will ever know who I'm thinking about when I sing that song. But I've also been the villain in the song. I've been jealous of people and not liked them for no reason."
Shelton admits that, on occasions, he was the man he sings about in Anyone Else.
But, like expat Australasian superstar Keith Urban, he tries to give younger acts a helping hand - especially protégés on The Voice.
Gwen Sebastian, from the show's second season, sings in Shelton 's road band and Rae Lynn, from the same season, appears on Bringing Back the Sunshine , singing with Shelton on Buzzin'.
He feels responsibility to singers that extends beyond advice he gives them on The Voice .
"When I have an opportunity to showcase one of them, I'm going to take it," Shelton says.
"It sounds crazy, but they do seem like kids I've got to watch out for."
And his own career?
"I'm literally having so much fun it should be illegal," he said.
"Who would want down time if you got to do what I do? All I ever cared about doing, ever, ever, is being a country singer. Every day I wake up and it's just exciting right now. It's just fun."
“I don't need another drink of Johnny Walker Red/ and I don't need another drag of a Malboro cigarette/ and I don't need me telling myself everything's going to be alright/ and I don't need me lying here alone again tonight.” - I Need My Girl - Ben Hayslip-Rhett Akins-Ross Copperman.
Blake Shelton frames tabloid stories about wife Miranda Lambert's fictitious pregnancy and supposed demise of their marriage and keeps them in the couple's home.
The reports are so ridiculous he thinks they're funny.
"I'll tell you, she'll be pregnant; that one will be true before the divorce rumors are true," jokes Shelton .
"We kind of found out the less we try to defend ourselves, the more it goes away. We're happy. What do you want us to do to show that we're happy?"
One story implied Shelton had an affair with pop singer Shakira, and it turned into a joke between the couple.
Miranda told him if that rumor were true, she would probably give him a high five.
"We are really happy, and we really laugh about all of that stuff," Lambert, now 31, said.
"When we're not in work mode, what actually brought us together, which is country music, we don't bring that home. We're just normal people doing laundry, going to the grocery store, watching HGTV."
"It's just dumb," Shelton said.
"But if the gossip is happening because we're popular, then bring it on. Pile it up. I can live with it."