Blake Shelton

Red River Blue

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Back in 2010, Blake Shelton and the shrewd A&R department at Warner Nashville gambled with a new format, releasing Shelton's singles, "Hillbilly Bone" and "All About Tonight," as separate "six pack" EPs (five other tracks filled each of them out, creating one full-length album in two installments). It paid off. Both singles were hits, and fans bought the EPs in droves. Shelton, producer Scott Hendricks, and Warner wasted no time following them up. In early 2011, Shelton was back with "Honey Bee," a single that hit the number one spot on both the Billboard and Mediabase country charts within seven weeks. It became the fastest-selling download single by a male country artist to earn a gold certification; it eventually went platinum. Shelton and Hendricks were caught by surprise with the success of the single, because they had only half an album finished. They were given two weeks to complete the rest. In the meantime, Warner followed "Honey Bee" with another album track: a rocked-up cover of contemporary Christian music songwriter Dave Barnes' "God Gave Me You." The 11-song Red River Blue reflects that rush of energy; while it never sounds panicked, it does feel just a tad rough around the edges in terms of song choices. The music is almost pure contemporary honky tonk with some balanced material woven in. Basslines are elevated in the combination love song/party anthem "Ready to Roll," while the spirit of Jerry Jeff Walker is evoked on "Get Some" (with backing vocals by Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride). "Good Ole Boys" sounds exactly like its title, and pays tribute -- intentionally or not -- to Hank Williams, Jr.'s rockist brand of country. The other tunes tunes include the summery, midtempo shuffle that is "Drink on It," and the ballads "I'm Sorry" and "Over," both of which contain tension-built-to-crescendo bridges. The album's title track closes the set, and follows "Hey," an overly formulaic rowdy party anthem. The song "Red River Blue" is Shelton at his most uncharacteristically tender. It's a broken love song fueled by accordion, fiddle, and acoustic guitar. There's enough pedal steel to take the human heart and wrench it around before Lambert's backing vocals kick in and the tune goes over the edge into tearsville. For Shelton's fans, this is a whole helping of what you like best, and it's carefully formulated to be exactly that.

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