Red River Blue
There's a little Jimmy Buffet in Blake Shelton.
Shelton isn't looking for "Margaritaville" or a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" in the Florida Keys, as Buffett was. Nor does his music reflect a laid-back island vibe. No, this country singer grew up in southern Oklahoma, and his love of the region is reflected in every note of his proudly down-home songs. And it's in that sense that both Shelton and Buffet sound as if they've discovered a little slice of paradise, and neither is in any rush to leave.
Shelton's tunes are full of wild Friday nights and lazy Sunday afternoons. He sings about love and loss and whiling away the hours by a favorite fishing hole, catching more catnaps than catfish. He presents himself as a good ol' boy who'll look you straight in the eye, seal deals with a handshake and sometimes cement friendships with a punch in the mouth. On his website, he sets aside space for fans he affectionately calls "BS'ers." The initials obviously stand for Blake Shelton—and something else that's equally obvious.
Shelton's small-town persona has led to some serious big-town success. And Red River Blue—a tuneful, mellow salute to dirt roads and dirty love—is expected to propel him even further into the upper reaches of the country music pantheon.
The title track finds a man praying, "God, pull me through" as he mourns a lost love. But more often we hear Blake celebrating the idea of love's permanence. The second single from Red River Blue, "God Gave Me You," was originally recorded by Christian artist Dave Barnes. And it's as sweet as the title suggests. "God gave me you for the days of doubt/And for when I think I lost my way," Shelton sings. "There are no words here left to say, it's true/God gave me you." He calls the object of his affection (wife and fellow country music phenom Miranda Lambert) "an angel lovely." Then he adds poignantly, "What love has tethered, I pray we never undo."
Several other songs tip the hat to lifelong faithfulness. On "Sunny in Seattle," Shelton says it'd have to be sunny in that notoriously soggy city and "snowing down in New Orleans" before his love would grow cold. His runaway hit "Honey Bee" also delivers a sappy-but-sincere shout-out to love: "If you'll be my soft and sweet/I'll be your strong and steady." And "Good Ol' Boys" laments the death of Southern hospitality ("They don't say 'Ma'am' or 'Sir' no more/They won't even hold a door for a woman/Well it's a crying shame").
Shelton's core positive message, then, is short and sweet: Life is pretty awesome. And he's content to savor its simple pleasures, whether that's an afternoon on the couch, a tasty barbecue, some time with friends and the love of a good woman.
Unfortunately, that list also includes indulging booze and casual sex—generally in that order.
That's pretty clear on "Drink on It," in which a man sidles up to a girl in a bar and plies her with alcohol ("I could use another whiskey/And your cosmo's getting low") before—he hopes—taking her home. "Maybe later on we can sleep on it," he sings. "But for right now we just need to drink on it." The suggestively titled "Get Some" offers more of the same: "You get beer/You get drunk/You get weird/You get drove home/You get up thrown." Then we hear a description of a relationship that progresses from seduction to sex to marriage to divorce in a handful of staccato lines—circling back to the bottle again at the end. And there's still more naughtiness on "Hey," when Shelton asks a woman to "kick her cowgirls off" so they can have a roll in the hay. (An odd reference to the hay that baby Jesus slept on turns up in the same verse.) "Honey Bee" includes the suggestive line, "You be my honeysuckle/I'll be your honeybee."
A number of songs refer to different kinds of alcohol (whiskey, tequila, beer). Several are punctuated with mild profanities ("h‑‑‑," "a‑‑"). "Get Some" includes an irreverent reference to faith when Shelton rhymes "You get lost/You get saved" with "You get waxed/You get shaved/You get high, real high." The singer seems both to demean and to offer grudging acceptance to a "little fella" in a "pink beret" on "Hey."
Some uncharacteristically brooding moments on "Over" hint at wholesale destructiveness ("If I could/Light the world/We could sit/And watch it burn/We could fall asleep inside the glow") and suicide ("Then I could/Slip away/With you as a poison in my veins/I don't wanna fall asleep alone/And wake up knowing that I died without the one.").
It's not hard to understand why this easygoin' Oklahoman has become so popular. Because in Blake's better moments, his cowboy odes to lifelong love and embracing the good life while you're at it are as sweet as honey.
But just about as soon as you're ready to let loose with a sugary "Awww," Shelton inevitably does something that evokes "Ewww" instead—like practically pouring drinks down a woman's throat in order to get her into his bed.