My Kind of Country

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

Album Review – Blake Shelton – ‘Startin’ Fires’

blake shelton - startin firesSeven years into a steadily growing career and firmly committed to artistic powerhouse Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton sought a reversal of fortunes, to live in the automatic add-status world of genre elite. He even went so far as to name the release Startin’ Fires, a somewhat presumptuous tactic which had him attempting to start fires within the industry and his own career.

The desperate-to-write-wrongs “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” and love-you-while-it-lasts “I’ll Just Hold On” were the album’s two singles, a dynamo one-two-punch of palpable ache. Shelton’s strongest when he appropriately conveys the emotion of a lyric and he does that here. The former also followed his cover of “Home” to the number one spot, the first back-to-back chart toppers of his career.

So it’s too bad he went ahead and jumped the gun, letting the eagerness of greater fame cloud his already somewhat questionable knack for selecting songs. Startin’ Fires barely acts as career kindling, with more non-starters than useable matches in the matchbook.

Shelton plays up his country persona three times – as a farm boy long before it was cool in “Green,” the ranch hand with farmer’s-only muscles in “Country Strong” and the homebody with southern pride in “Home Sweet Home.” Shelton’s attempts at proving his “I’m country” allegiances only come marred with overwrought clichés and a discomforting amount of insincerity.

He tries his hand at being the lovelorn gentleman, but only manages a half-baked “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” on “100 Miles” a bombastic screamer. Shelton sounds as though he’s attempting to sing a love song aimed at Lambert, but “Never Lovin’ You” lacks the investment of a man who means what he’s singing.

Shelton’s at least trying on “This Is Gonna Take All Night,” a lesser George Strait styled shuffle that sounds almost vintage in Shelton’s modern hands. He keeps up the trend on “I Don’t Care,” the closest he gets to classic country, and turns in a delightful by-the-campfire duet with Lambert on the delightfully frisky “Bear Skin Rug.”

If anything Startin’ Fires establishes Shelton’s middle of the road comfort zone, his knack for coasting on forgettable material. He’s merely okay when he should be great, an artist who would’ve been long forgotten in the boom years of the 1990s. This isn’t a terrible record by any means, but from a man who should be at the top of his game, it’s a huge disappointment.

Grade: C+ 

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