Review: Blake Shelton Finds a Slightly Less Rowdy ‘Voice’ in ‘Red River Blue’

Country rambunctiousness is traded for less polarizing romance in –but fans of his funnier side won’t find his rogue-ish charms altogether MIA

Everybody knows winners on TV music competitions have their albums rushed through production to capitalize on instant notoriety. But Blake Shelton may be the first judge on such a show to require his own rush job.

He wasn’t scheduled to record his new album, "Red River Blue," until July, after the first season of "The Voice" wrapped. But the success of the NBC series — or, more accurately, his success on the series — meant pushing the release date to Tuesday, when he’d originally planned on entering the studio. 

The process couldn’t have been more hurried if he were your new American Idol. Which maybe he is.

Judge or no, Shelton might be the worthiest beneficiary of a TV talent show since … well, since his bride, Miranda Lambert, finished third on Nashville Star eight years back. He’s already been a borderline-superstar in the country community — that is, most everywhere between San Bernardino and Hackensack — but this, his eighth studio recording,might as well be his debut in country-resistant climes like Brentwood and midtown Manhattan.

It’s a pretty decent starter course, and/or career summation, depending where you’re coming from.

Newcomers may be slightly confused. Is he the lovable rogue who delights in the most politically incorrect gags and baudy postings any mainstream star dares type on Twitter? Or the gentleman groom recently seen looking courtly on wedding-themed magazine covers? Both, of course, at least on record, where Shelton enjoys playing country music’s Goofus and its Gallant.

His rascal side — let’s call it “Rake” Shelton — gets a workout on “Get Some,” the album’s pickin’-est and grinnin’-est nod to irresponsibility. (Sample lyrics: “You get gas/You get beer/You get weird/You get drove home/You get up-thrown.”) But some songs that threaten rambunctiousness disguise a morally conservative core.

“Drink On It” is not one of Shelton’s rowdy odes to getting plastered, but a reasonably polite suggestion to a girl that they get to know each other over libations. (It contains one of the album’s more memorable rhymes: “We can talk rocket science, Jesus, or politics/Hey, your boyfriend cheated on you?/Man, he sounds like such a prick.”) “Good Ole Boys,” a musical homage to Waylon Jennings, doesn’t champion outlaw behavior but rather good manners, knocking baggy pants-wearing kids who “don’t say ma’am or sir no more.”

The ballads abandon these regional tropes. (The best, “Addicted,” is only available on the iTunes/Walmart deluxe edition.) Lambert adds guest harmonies to the pleasingly rueful title track; apparently these two aren’t afraid to jinx their honeymoon with a breakup lament.

Less successfully, Shelton indulges in a rare flirtation with goop on “God Gave Me You,” a cover of a Christian rock power ballad that renders divine providence particularly bland. Naturally, it’s the album’s next single, but you have to wonder what Shelton’s shadow Twitter side really makes of the song.

Is his sweeter persona taking over to cater to newfound TV viewers who might not care to kiss his country behind (to paraphrase a recent Shelton anthem)? Or is it a natural continuation of his late success with romantic ballads like “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking”? Has wedded bliss had a settling musical effect, too—or did he just have too abbreviated a song-picking window to find any new rowdy classics?

If he's mellowing, it’s hardly a fatal shift: Even a slightly tamed Shelton is still gratifyingly Goofus-y by other country hitmakers’ standards.