As impartial as any one individual may attempt to be, history and human nature means there’s always implicit biases lingering under the surface. The true key to being impartial is not to try and bury the biases you may have and will never vanquish, but to call them out in the open and admit to them, and then attempt to counter-balance them against what your heart and mind are telling you.
As the origination point of the now notorious “Old Farts and Jackasses” quote—which set hard and fast dividing lines between the classic and modern, and the mainstream and independent in country music—the Blake Shelton name will always run afoul of many, and carry at least some baggage for others, making whatever Shelton does hard to find favor with, even if it’s decent, or better than what the rest of the mainstream is releasing.
Blake Shelton’s latest record Texoma Shore is not really that great, and it would be a stretch to even call it good. It’s adult contemporary more than anything, and only country in certain texturing and approach. Yet as enjoyable as it might be to trash this effort for all the ills Mr. “Old Farts and Jackasses” has sowed for traditional country fans over the years, the truth is this might be Blake Shelton’s best album since he uttered those now notorious words in 2013.
As strange as it may be to say, Blake Shelton found a simple groove and regained a little bit of the voice that marked his success earlier in his career with Texoma Shore. Hell I’m partly mad he had to use the portmanteau combining Texas and Oklahoma in the title, forever dooming the likelihood it will be used in place of the unwieldy Texas Music/Red Dirt distinction as once suggested. But Blake Shelton is from the area, so he has as much of a claim on it as anyone.
Texoma Shore is still saddled with a safe and pallid approach in the production that will leave the more active ear of true country music fans feeling unfulfilled. But who wouldn’t take Scott Hendricks—who started his career producing records for Alan Jackson—over “busbee,” Shane McAnally, or whoever else is mainstream country’s pop flavor of the month as producer?
Traditional country fans will never give this record a chance, and they probably shouldn’t. It’s not in their wheelhouse. But compared to its contemporaries, Texoma Shore scores well on multiple gradients. For example, while the 40-something Luke Bryan, and the now 50-something Keith Urban are out there singing songs more appropriate for 23-year-olds, Blake Shelton has done what any good performer should do, which is to grow old with their music. This keeps the themes relevant to the audience, and more believable to the ear.
At least Blake is acting his age. And even though he only co-wrote one song on this entire record, Texoma Shore actually feels really personal to Shelton, like these songs were written for him so he can deliver them with more conviction, as opposed to just singing them because he knows they’ll be radio hits.
That’s the thing about Blake Shelton, and the strange course his career has taken. He gets scant consideration for the industry awards these days. He’s only got the time for about a dozen or so tour dates a year. Radio still loves him I guess, but it’s not because he’s pandering to what they want. Blake Shelton is still relevant because he’s built his franchise around his position on The Voice, and it’s worked much better for him than some of his contemporaries who must spend months on the road. Why do you think Keith Urban, and now Luke Bryan decided to get into the American Idol game?
It’s Blake Shelton’s folksy, middle-aged sexpot persona that has built him a solid fan base without a lot of fanfare, and without the need to pander or chase trends. And it’s that slightly older crowd where he’s built the appeal for his music. Texoma Shore suits the same people who watch The Voice, which is 40-somethings, like Shelton. It’s divorcee country. Piggy backing off his high-profile relationship with that girl from No Doubt, Shelton sells some of the better cuts from this record like “Why Me” and “The Wave” with passion, while the first song and single “I’ll Name The Dogs,” and the last song “I Lived It” show off his aw shucks country side that makes him endearing to many. The melody of “Got The T-Shirt” is devilishly good.
As so many of country’s male superstars refuse to grow up, Blake Shelton is singing songs about settling down, rekindling dying flames, re-evaluating the important things in life and reminiscing, which are the things that most adults actually do, and is certainly more healthy than perpetually reliving your early 20’s. And he’s doing it while mostly avoiding electronic drums, and allowing the steel guitar to come through the mix in moments.
There are exceptions to all this praise however, and one very big one in the song “Money.” It’s one of those songs that so bad, it saddles this entire project, and will go on to help define one of the worst atrocities of Shelton’s entire career with its stupid monotone talk singing and misogynistic lyrics. You could say it’s right up there with “Boys ‘Round Here” as Shelton’s worst song ever, but ironically, “Money” sounds like a ripoff of Shelton’s first dalliance with country rap way back in 2013, so you can’t even give it credit for boldness or originality. Rest assured, if “Money” is ever released as a single (or maybe even if it isn’t), it will get it’s proper rebuke. But for now, it can be written off as a misstep, and separated from consideration from the rest of the album’s material, like those really terrible lead singles from Tim McGraw a few years ago like “Truck Yeah.”
Blake Shelton’s Texoma Shore does not come recommended by Saving Country Music. Shelton and crew still leave much to be desired, and still give ample reason for the sheer sound of his name to anger the blood. But if you put all of your predisposed dispositions aside (as well as the song “Money”), and be honest with yourself, it’s pretty clear that Blake Shelton is not part of the big problem with country music today. He may not be part of the solution, but if most any given song from Texoma Shore comes on the radio when you’re driving with your in-laws to Chili’s, or forced to sit in a cubicle next to a pop country fan, it won’t give you a reason to wince. At least it won’t if you’re being honest with yourself and reacting to the song, and not the name. And that’s an improvement for Shelton, and for country music in general, that is only fair to recognize.