In the realm of pretty-boy contemporary country singers, Blake Shelton isn’t as cheesy as Keith Urban or as manly as Brad Paisley. He’s in the creamy, mushy middle, which is exactly where he aims on Red River Blue. Affecting the popular guise of the redneck gentleman—he’ll whisper sweet nothings in your ear, darlin,’ but that don’t mean he don’t care about trucks and freedom—Shelton favors midtempo, deadly dull ballads specializing in the sorts of earnest pledges to fidelity and domesticity that husbands hardly ever make in real life. On “Honey Bee,” Shelton promises to be “strong and steady.” The faintly soulful “Ready To Roll” extols the virtues of munching on “tater chips” and listening to “laidback country tunes on the radio” on the couch at home. All that’s missing is a song about promising to pick up milk on the way home from work.
As he showed as a judge on the hit reality show The Voice, Shelton has an easygoing charm that’s hard to hate. The problem with Red River Blue is that it doesn’t conjure a single discernable emotion; similar to the impeccably coiffed stubble on Shelton’s face, it looks handsome, but lacks the texture that defines genuine feeling. The closest Shelton gets to passion is “Good Ole Boys,” which comes on like a grouchy editorial from a mid-’90s newspaper, railing against an unnamed “dude dressed like a clown” wearing—you guessed it—“baggy pants and a cap on sideways.” Like a lot of good-looking country fellas, perhaps Shelton is better seen and not heard.