A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Blake Shelton “Based on a True Story …” (Warner Bros.)
Oklahoma country music superstar Blake Shelton handily serves multiple masters on his seventh studio album “Based on a True Story …”
As much as it might pain his longtime fans, especially Oklahomans who have followed the Ada native’s career since the 1990s, Shelton is no longer just a likeable country boy with a big voice and even bigger personality. Still, he continues to leverage those assets with affable ease, delivering songs that will appeal to both venerable devotees and newfound fans the Tishomingo resident has gained as a coach on the smash reality TV show “The Voice.”
Despite its rushed feel, Shelton, 36, manages to equalize his expanding sonic horizons and his enduring — although recently questioned — affection for old-school country music with “Based on a True Story …,” his first album since he truly broke out as a crossover superstar.
The follow-up to his 2011 Grammy-nominated effort “Red River Blue,” which debuted just after Season 1 of “The Voice,” “Based on a True Story …” also balances his gift as a balladeer with his reputation as a swaggering smart aleck.
The album’s chart-topping first single, “Sure Be Cool if You Did,” made it clear that the laidback country singer would be exploring a more pop-infused sound. The experimentation isn’t limited to the lead-off single: Shelton’s new “Story” opens with the freewheeling hip-hop beat of “Boys ‘Round Here,” which features his wife Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies bandmates contributing harmony vocals and sassy catcalls.
The three-time Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year clearly doesn’t need AutoTune, but the high-tech trickery is used for effect on the autobiographical Southern rocker “Small Town Big Time,” which expresses his homesickness for small-town living during his Hollywood residencies for “The Voice.”
The say-anything bravado that has earned Shelton so many admirers is given full rein on the brash “I Still Got a Finger,” which is sure to draw comparisons to David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.” He also channels his Countrypolitan hero Conway Twitty on the seductive “Lay Low,” while “Granddaddy’s Gun,” previously covered by rock/country crossover artist Aaron Lewis, has all the hallmarks of a classic country story-song.
But the ballads are the best parts of Shelton’s “Story,” particularly the weeper “Mine Would Be You” and the sultry “My Eyes.” The newlywed bliss that flowed on “Red River Blue” seeps in with the good-natured “Doin’ What She Likes” and the earnest “Ten Times Crazier.”
Shelton will bring his “Ten Times Crazier Tour” to Tulsa’s BOK Center on Oct 4. For more information, go to www.bokcenter.com.