My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?’

Blake Shelton’s latest single (the second from his second Sixpak EP, All About Tonight), is a revival of a song which might so easily have become a hit for one of his rivals. Joe Nichols recorded it a few years a go on his under-rated Real Things set (whose promotion was affected by his treatment for addiction issues), but never released it as a single. Written by Earl Bud Lee with John Wayne Wiggins (briefly a recording artist himself with sister Audrey), this is a sweet love song to a lover the protagonist is not yet completely familiar with, he speculates sweetly how she behaves unobserved. Does she let herself go in relaxation or anger?

There is a sweet fascination with the other which epitomises the early stages of a relationship, where infatuation is just beginning to develop into wanting to know the whole person. In this case she seems to be rather a restrained person in public, and even reserved with her new boyfriend. In the song’s most memorable image, he notes she is someone who will

Hold yourself together like a pair of bookends

She clearly keeps something back from him, and his tenderly expressed desire to know more about her is a promising sign for the longevity of their possible future together.

I think this version is better than Joe Nichols’ original, which was pleasant enough but lacked impact vocally. Here, Blake’s soothingly sultry, seductive vocals on this track bring out the message of the song, with a grainy quality coming out in his voice just once or twice. The lovely scaled-back production gives the languid ballad a very laid back feel which makes it stand out amongst the overwhelmingly up-tempo repertoire of country radio, and a far cry from the power ballads which take the few ballad slots apparently available. I suspect it is only Blake’s current hot hitmaking status that has enabled such a lovely low-key number to be promoted to radio with a genuine chance of becoming a hit.

The newest member of the Opry, Blake is coming off two straight #1 hits, both radio-friendly up-tempo numbers with fairly limited long term appeal. I hope this much quieter, more subtle song can do as well, as it shows a deeper side to him, just as his fiancée Miranda Lambert, famed for her assertive rockers, reached new heights with her summer smash ‘The House That Built Me’. I suspect that his song may possibly hold more appeal for female listeners than his last couple of hits, aimed at a rowdier audience.

Blake is also currently enjoying his first CMA nomination as Male Vocalist of the Year; it was something of a surprise inclusion, and he may be an outside bet for the win next month, but if he continues to produce material in this vein and of this quality, he would be an even more convincing contender for the next round of awards shows, when this song would be considered as part of Blake’s output in the nomination period. I don’t think it is a truly great song, but it is a good one, and the vocal performance is one of Blake’s finest to date.

Grade: B+

4 responses to “Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?’

  1. Ben Foster October 28, 2010 at 9:23 am

    I’ve heard some varying critical opinion of Blake’s performance vs. Joe’s. It seems like for everyone who likes Joe’s version better, there’s someone else who likes Blake’s version better. I don’t know if I could pick. It might be a toss-up, but I’m slightly leaning toward Blake.

    That said, I do think this is a good song no matter who sings it.

  2. Leeann October 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I like Blake’s version better. Both the production and vocals keep my attention more. The lyrics are a little odd, but I can see what the writers were going for. I agree that it might be one of his better vocal performances. I really like his voice, but I like that he’s softer here instead of singing with the force that he typically uses.

  3. Fred November 25, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    This song sucks all around.

  4. david allen November 30, 2010 at 9:57 am

    its relaxing to listen to a song that that reassures you that country music can still be country , nice job blake .

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