Blake Shelton is the perfect contemporary country artist. His rich baritone voice allows him to bounce between traditional-sounding honky tonk material, big romantic power ballads, and pure country corn with relative ease, and his singles are usually a welcome thing when they come on the radio. What he isn't, however, is an album-oriented artist, and that's clear on Startin' Fires, his fifth studio release. There's a little bit of everything here, and that's part of the problem. Between the annoying country-smart glibness of the opener, "Green," to the tries-so-hard-to-be-cute duet with his current girlfriend Miranda Lambert on "Bare Skin Rug" which closes things out, there are only a couple of times when anything here really catches fire (despite the title). One of those times is the song "She Wouldn't Be Gone," which is a brilliant portrayal of a man who finally finds his passion and love for a woman when it's way too late and she's already gone, and the chorus swells to passionate, almost white-knuckle perfection. It's a great song and Shelton gives it everything. Unfortunately, it's also far and away the best thing on Startin' Fires, and with the possible exception of the clever and purposefully ironic "I Don't Care," another ballad about love long gone, Shelton doesn't hit that level of emotion very often here, and this from a man who sang "these days when I turn on the radio, it's just not the same thrill" on his debut album in 2001. Everything here is professional and well recorded, sure, and Shelton's voice is always a joy to hear, but the material just doesn't quite seem strong enough. Wait for the greatest-hits collection and hope "She Wouldn't Be Gone" is on it. It will be, by the way, because it's that good, and it shows how much talent this man really has when he gets a song equal to it.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Miranda Lambert