Reining CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton has released his new album, Based On A True Story... this week. Blake has faced heavy scrutiny of late with his comments on classic country fans, and has seen unprecedented levels of success with his role as a judge on The Voice. Blake has had an up and down year, and this album has been much anticipated by people on both sides of the country fence, for very different reasons.
Unfortunately, this album is a let-down. While not the worst album I have ever heard, Blake has released an album that lacks creativity, breaks no new ground, and feels generally rushed. Blake has a hell of a voice and certainly sounds great vocally on the songs, but the lack of standout songs really hinder this collection.
The album lets you know right off the bat what kind of album it will be. "Boys Round Here" is another country-rap song full of countryisms about being country in the country. It could be played back to back with Jason Aldean and Colt Ford and fit right in. It's sure to be a huge hit, and while it is catchy and may make you smile the first time, it lacks any of the heart and soul of true country music. It is just another slide to the pop side of country music.
"Sure Be Cool If You Did" is the album's first single, and isn't particularly offensive, but isn't great. It's a very average song. I wouldn't turn it off in disgust, but I really can't see myself seeking it out either. It is one of the strongest on this album, however. That is a telling sign. Blake had big success with this song, and I don't see a song that will beat it out as the "definitive" track of this album. It is catchy and commercial, if not really groundbreaking at all. Average and predictable, much like the album.
"Small Town Big Time" is another countryism song that uses my least favorite tool in any music: auto-tune. I hate it on pop and rap music, and I think it has NO place in country music. I can't take the song seriously with that thrown it. "You ever wonder why country songs say the same old thing?" Blake asks on "Country on the Radio", another song with the same tired story-line. Nothing like calling out the problems on your album yourself. Whether it is a ballad or a breezy mid-tempo song, the album runs together. Nothing stands out as great, nothing really makes you sick besides the auto-tune garbage. Blake sounds great on the songs, but he doesn't have a big "moment". "Rushed" has to be the best way to describe Based On A True Story... The Voice takes a lot of Blake's time, but he needs to manage it to where it doesn't negatively affect his music.
Let's not be Negative Nancys here. There are a few stronger points. "Ten Times Crazier" isn't exactly a work of art lyrically, but it has a fun country beat and is more reminiscent of a more innocent late 90's country song than the commercial driven stuff out there today. "Still Got A Finger" is classic Blake, featuring funny lyrics and a smartass attitude that really made people start to fall in love with him. "Granddaddy's Gun" is an excellent song. I loved it on Aaron Lewis' album as well. This version is similar and just as strong. In a world where gun control is fiercely debated on our TVs and Internet night and day, Blake shows us why many people still love and cherish their guns. This song has the heart, soul, and sound that fans like me want out of country music. By far the best song on the album. The bonus version has a KILLER old school country weeper called "Frame of Mine". This song is great. Its sad, full of steel guitar, and dripping with emotion. Blake sings the dickens out of it too. The bonus track status of it tells me two things. First of all, it won't be a single, which is a total bummer. Also, I would bet it was a late addition to the album to silence some of his critics about his love of classic and traditional country. It is a solid response, but needs to be in a place it can be heard more, not hidden as an album-only iTunes bonus track.
Blake stated in his controversial interview that he feels he has a say in where country music is headed. Hopefully, its not headed in this direction. Blake has a masterful voice and a great sense of humor, but he needs to use it to make more memorable music. I like Blake, and I think he knows he messed up with his thoughtless comments. Now, when time to prove the doubters wrong, he played into their hands with a mediocre album. It isn't terrible, but it is very forgettable, and that is not what the Entertainer of the Year should be doing. I'm still a Blake fan, one bad album doesn't make a career, but he needs to find a better sound for the next album if he wants to stay relevant.
Standout Tracks: "Granddaddy's Gun", Ten Times Crazier", "Frame Of Mine"
"Sure Be Cool If You Did" music video