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Blake Shelton’s is a country mouse who’s become a part-time city mouse. By virtue of his stint as a mentor on “The Voice,” he’s now got one foot squarely in Los Angeles just as much as he has the other in Nashville (or actually Oklahoma, as the case may be), but he seems determined to make sure his redneck bonafides stay intact on “Based On A True Story...,” his seventh studio album.
In fact, the only tune that addresses his Los Angeles life is “Small Town Big Time,” a ditty that pokes fun at Hollywood, while still yearning to be back in a one-stoplight town. Most of the album is devoted to his country roots in ways both clever and disappointingly mundane. On album opener “Boys ‘Round Here,” Shelton takes on Jason Aldean’s sloping success with a song that’s as much talking as it is singing, set to a pointed guitar melody. It even includes the refrain, “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit...” The mid-tempo “Country On the Radio” panders to the usual tired country tropes of pick-ups, cut-offs, and, of course, a name check to King George, George Strait.
Shelton has said in interviews for this album that he is in such a happy place with his career and private life (as private as his marriage to fellow country superstar Miranda Lambert can be) that he only wanted to record upbeat tunes. For the most part, that’s what he’s done here. He displays an appealing cross between Johnny Paycheck’s feistiness and Jimmy Buffett’s good timing swagger on “I Still Got A Finger,” a modern update on “Take This Job & Shove It.”
With his easy-going voice and attitude, Shelton makes it all sound effortless, especially on current No. 1 country hit, the infectious “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” but if you’re looking for any kind of depth, look elsewhere. This is an album for popping in the car on a sunny day that will serve as the soundtrack for a day at the beach as much as a night at your favorite honky tonk.
ACM host Shelton is a man’s man, but he knows he has great appeal to the ladies, who love his romantic side: hence tunes like ballad “Mine Would Be You.” It’s one of those impossibly romantic songs about a man whose “best day/finest hour/wildest dream come true” is the woman by his side. Chicks dig that stuff, but this one comes with a twist in the last verse that gives it a kick you don’t see coming.
Similarly aimed for his female audience are My Eyes,” a sly, sultry song, where he declares, “My eyes are the only thing I don’t wanna take off of you" and “Lay Low,” which, other than the line about “stay high,” has the musical feel of ‘80s country tune with just the right amount of cheesiness.
The album ends with “Granddaddy’s Gun,” a touching salute to his grandfather, who suggested handling a gun with the same care as a man handles a woman. The gun has taken the place of the family Bible as the keeper of generations of memories.
There’s nothing wrong with “Based On A True Story,” but there’s also nothing particularly excellent other than “Granddaddy’s Gun” and “Mine Would Be You.” The production is predictable, as are most of the songs. Shelton is a true talent and yet this album doesn’t match up with his abilities. Maybe he’s simply too stretched to spend the amount of time writing or recording an album that would reflect the totality of his talents, but it would be great to get an album from him that really showed what he could do. While pleasing in many ways, "Based On A True Story..." rarely scratches below the surface.