Blake Shelton isn’t really a small-town Oklahoma boy anymore. Now he just plays one on TV. As the only country singer among the coaches on The Voice, he’s always trying to teach those fancy showbiz types how the guys do things down South, whether he’s playing up his let me tip my Stetson, ma’am charisma, chugging from a bottle of sarsaparilla, or delivering his best Hee Haw-worthy one-liners. (His favorite kind of turkey to shoot? Wild Turkey.)
So it makes sense that the best tracks on Based on a True Story, his eighth studio full-length, find him acting as Nashville’s cultural ambassador to Hollywood — though he’s still out to prove that he’s ”backwoods legit.” That’s how Shelton puts it on the silly but fun blast-it-from-your-truck sing-along ”Boys ‘Round Here,” where he makes like Jerry Reed, talking through his rules for how to be Southern (rule No. 204: Never, ever do the Dougie). Elsewhere, the classic-rock boot stomper ”Small Town Big Time” has him in Los Angeles, teaching his buddies back home how to pronounce ”Rodeo Drive.”
Luckily, his pickup lines should translate well to corny uncles on both coasts: ”My eyes,” he croons on ”My Eyes,” ”are the only thing I don’t wanna take off of you.” Shelton’s plenty charming on the funny songs — the take-this-job-and-shove-it anthem ”Still Got a Finger” might be the best — but on the serious ones, his cheeseball act can make you cringe. His idea of a romantic night on the ’80s-guitar-fueled ”Doing What She Likes”? Lighting watermelon-scented candles by her bed. And would his real-life badass wife, Miranda Lambert, really let him pour bubble bath into a hot tub on the mellow pedal-steel jam ”Lay Low”? He’s gonna break the Jacuzzi that way!
Shelton’s just not a gravitas kind of guy, and the outdated production only makes it harder to take his songs seriously, especially with the talk-box-style guitar effects and the ill-advised use of AutoTune. So it feels a little strange to hear him sounding so straightfaced about his love of shooting on the sober ballad ”Granddaddy’s Gun,” which could be the NRA’s new theme song. He makes his plugs for the Second Amendment — ”It backed a burglar down when Grandma took the safety off” — but his argument here is mostly sentimental, like when he remembers Granddaddy telling him that a woman’s a lot like a rifle: ”It’s all how you hold her.” Well, if those watermelon candles don’t work on his lady, at least he can seduce his gun. B-
”Boys ‘Round Here” a redneck-pride rocker
”Still Got a Finger” a day-job kiss-off