When he decided to record and release his countrified version of Michael Bublé’s “Home,” Blake Shelton was throwing down the gauntlet on his career. Tired of being known as the talented but mid-level artist, Shelton recorded a song he loved and turned it into a #1 hit and in the process figured out that fans would pay attention to him more if he used the voice that he’s been blessed with just a bit more. It was with that in mind that Blake Shelton went to work at recording an album he’s always wanted to record.
“She Wouldn’t Be Gone” is the song that radio is currently spinning and while new producer Scott Hendricks (now a WB A&R Executive) has wrapped the lyric in production that is radio friendly, this song manages to have an old-school feel due to Blake’s passionate vocal delivery. It’s simply a dynamic song, as is the album opening “Green.” In the latter song, written by Craig Wiseman and George Teren, Blake playfully describes a country way of life in a new and interesting way and the hook says “I was green before green was the thing.” Sherrié Austin, Will Rambeaux and John Stephan wrote the groovy, R&B soaked title track “Good at Startin’ Fires.” It’s another unique take on the way a woman’s flame burns bright (causing many minor incidents) and how the narrator’s love is the only thing to tame her (heart’s burn for her but I’m the one who walks beside her/maybe my baby’s gotten good at startin’ fires but I’m the only one who can put ‘em out”).
Chris Stapleton is the strong-voiced frontman of the Steeldrivers and his song “100 Miles” (co-written with Craig Wiseman) allows Blake to spread his wings and stretch his voice a bit on a smoldering regret-filled love song. Stapleton’s second contribution to the record is the Haggard-esque “Never Lovin’ You.” Co-written with Kendell Marvel, this track still has a groove-filled feeling but it’s also firmly country. It’s a fun, lyrically strong love song that doesn’t use the list forms, features an excellent guitar and piano solos. Hopefully, this one somehow gets airplay down the line. Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip co-wrote both “Country Strong” and “Home Sweet Home” and just by reading the titles, one might expect both songs to be cliché-filled and while they are somewhat, they both also manage to rise-above typical ‘ode to country life’ songs that have proliferated the radio dial. “Country Strong” again features distinctly country melodies and really reminds me of recent classic hits from the 90s while “Home Sweet Home” finds “Beltin’ Shelton” taking over as he sings what he loves about being from a small town (something that not all country singers are from).
While I’m diggin’ the country melody and steel guitar flourishes, I can’t help but feel as if “This Is Gonna Take All Night” is a song that would be perfect for George Strait. Blake just sounds a little ‘at odds’ vocally with the song. That being said, I can see radio eatin’ this one up. Dean Dillon co-wrote “Here I Am” with Blake and I’m quite sure that this sweetly romantic song was written for and about Miranda Lambert. “I Don’t Care” is a track that is reprised from the “Pure BS” album and was likely supposed to be released as a single before “Home” came out instead. While I’m still a bit indifferent to reprising tracks from previous records (this one isn’t even re-recorded), Blake could’ve picked something worse. “Bare Skin Rug” is probably the song most people have heard the most about prior to this album’s release due to Blake and Miranda Lambert’s relationship. It’s a song that is country through-and-through. It’s a bit humorous in parts and it actually reminds me of something from the Dewey Cox film soundtrack. While it’s obvious that the song isn’t ever meant to be a big hit, it does feature one of Miranda’s best ever vocals.
For all of the talk about Shelton possibly hoping to crossover with this album, he and producer Scott Hendricks have largely kept the album firmly rooted in country and one could even argue that “Startin’ Fires” is one of the more traditional sounding mainstream albums of 2008.