Blake Shelton's been one of Nashville's biggest, most charming stars for nearly a decade, yet few people outside of the country bubble recognize his name. But after unexpectedly breaking out as a judge on reality-TV hit The Voice and marrying fellow country star Miranda Lambert in a tabloid-friendly wedding, Shelton is poised to cross over into the mainstream. His new album, Red River Blue, released Tuesday, has critics debating whether Shelton is poised to become the next Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, or Taylor Swift. Can Shelton break out of his niche?
Shelton's got all of the makings of a star: As one of Nashville's "most affable celebrities," says Jon Caramanica at The New York Times, Shelton's been primed for a "mainstream star-making opportunity" like The Voice for years. In the world of country music, he's more "unpredictable and cheekier than all his male counterparts put together," free of the "stoic reserve" that plagues most of them. With Red River Blue destined to be a commercial hit, expect him to join Taylor Swift as "the most important and visible ambassador from Nashville to the American mainstream."
"Country boy for the whole country"
And this is the album that will get him there: Red River Blue "should do nothing to slow" Shelton's path to superstardom, says Allen Morrison at American Songwriter. The lead single, "Honey Bee," has already become an "infectious" crossover success, and he'll likely follow up with that surefire crossover country-staple, the "big wedding song" (his take is titled "God Gave Me You"). The album boasts "high-quality songs, great singing and musicianship," and "state-of-the-art production."
"Blake Shelton: Red River Blue"
Let's not declare Shelton a crossover star quite yet: This is ostensibly Shelton's "debut in country-resistant climes like Brentwood and Manhattan," where viewers fell in love with him on The Voice, says Chris Willman at Reuters. It's a "decent starter course," though one that will leave newcomers to Shelton's music "slightly confused." Some tracks echo the "rascal side" of his TV personality. But a "flirtation with goop" on other songs may leave new listeners feeling less than enthused.
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