As a country artist, Blake Shelton has been no stranger to charting hits and Gold records since his debut album in 2001. But it was landing a seat as a coach on hit talent show The Voice that really introduced the world to who he is as a person—his personality, charm, his wit, his mischievous sense of humor. We already knew he was a great singer/songwriter; his personality is what has made him a superstar.
With his latest release, Based On a True Story…, Shelton makes the most of his newfound popularity capital, allowing his personality to come across in the music like never before. The result is a record that is certain to be the most successful of his career thus far.
Take, for example, the opening track, the redneck anthem “Boys ‘Round Here.” Shoot, the entire article could be devoted to this one song. Accented with vocals and shout-outs from wife Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies, the song launches with Blake spitting a Jason Aldean-esque hick-hop rap—and totally pulling it off. Then leave it to Blake to blend the spiritual with the earthy without taking a breath: “Boys ‘round here / Sending up a prayer to the Man Upstairs / Backwoods legit, don’t take no sh*t / Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.” Never mind the fact that songs about girls, trucks, and getting girls into trucks are oversaturating the country market just now—the song is just so fun that you don’t care. I dare you to listen to this one without smiling.
Speaking of songs about girls and trucks, Based On a True Story… is remarkably self-aware, and none too serious about it. In “Country On the Radio,” Shelton openly references the repetitive content in radio-friendly country songs—and defends it. “You ever wonder why country songs say the same thing / Like a broken record skipping down on Main / Pretty girls, pickups and cutoff jeans / You know what I mean?…Heard ‘em singing about it a million times / But I don’t mind.” Then there are the times when Shelton turns almost belligerent, howbeit with tongue firmly in cheek, on songs like “I Still Got a Finger.” (Just listen to it.)
It’s not all levity and tips-o-the-hat to Luke Bryan, however. Before his stint on The Voice, Blake Shelton built his reputation on meaningful love songs, and those are plentiful on the record as well—most notably the lead single “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” as well as tunes like “Do You Remember,” “Mine Would Be You,” and a few others. The closing tune, “Grandaddy’s Gun,” is the most reflective and nostalgic of the tracks, and while it’s likely to raise a few eyebrows among gun control advocates for its political incorrectness, a closer listen reveals the song isn’t really about the gun.
The album is well-written, well-produced and well-performed throughout, and perhaps the only critique I could make about it is that it sits within well worn ruts in the metaphorical dirt road, not really taking any risks save for Shelton’s own sass. But again, Blake Shelton’s success is built upon a combination of musicality and personality, and this album is loaded with both. Based On a True Story… is not a record for pushing the envelope; it’s a record to entertain country fans, and it exudes a confidence and exuberance you’d expect from a man sitting comfortably at the top. This type of record might not carry Blake Shelton a few years down the road, but for now, it’s totally appropriate. Blake has earned his place in the spotlight, and I for one am willing to give him this moment.