Blake Shelton

Bringing Back the Sunshine

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There was a sense that Blake Shelton needed to prove he was still country on 2013's Based on a True Story, the first album he recorded after turning into a television superstar thanks to his starring role on The Voice. Despite the macho boasts of "Boys Round Here" -- the record's biggest hit -- the songs from True Story that charted were largely ballads, which may be the reason why the album's quick follow-up, Bringing Back the Sunshine, relies on sweetness, not swagger. Underneath the gloss, there are remnants of redneck rhetoric -- drinks mixed in Sonic cups, a reliance on a corny backwoods growl on "Buzzin'" -- but they're just the accent, not the foundation. At its core, Bringing Back the Sunshine is a middlebrow makeout record that can double as a fine morning tonic. Nothing here rocks (although the closing "Just Gettin' Started" tries to work up a full head of steam), nothing is gritty, even the ode to a "Good Country Song," which isn't a slice of hardcore honky tonk but rather a slow-burner in the vein of Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley, who are both name-checked in the tune. This insistent mellowness is the strength of Bringing Back the Sunshine. Shelton has an easy touch with a ballad and he never gets subsumed in the thick overdubs of his midtempo pop songs because his warm, resonant voice anchors them both, making them seem slightly more substantial than mere cannily crafted contemporary country-pop. Yet, that's exactly what Bringing Back the Sunshine is: a state-of-the art country-pop record, a modern update of urban cowboy that works because it never hides its soft aspirations but never makes a fuss about them either.

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