Artist: Blake Shelton

Album: Red River Blue

Label: Warner Brothers

Red River Blue, the sixth album from Oklahoman Blake Shelton, plays like an album from an artist who knows where his bread is buttered. It's a crowd-pleaser, which makes up for what it lacks in artistic ingenuity with old-fashioned mass appeal.

Shelton, the reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, is cut from the Tim McGraw mold: a big teddy bear-type with a husky voice. It's not exactly clear why he rose to the top, but on Red River Blue he seems like an artist bent on staying there.

With a new marriage to country star Miranda Lambert, and TV gig as a talent judge on the successful NBC show The Voice, the timing for River's release couldn't be better. It's a comfortable album, full of smooth, easygoing tunes sure to charm the masses. It's heavy on the alcohol references, but short on much in the way of deep thoughts about life.

As complex as Shelton's lyrics get is the chorus of "God Gave Me You," when he sings, "You'll always be love's great martyr, and I'll be the flattered fool, and I need you." Most times, Shelton seems content to coast on his rich baritone and good-time vibe.

Opening track and lead single "Honey Bee" is a perfect showcase for Shelton's mix of big-voiced bravado and bashful, aw-shucks charm. Over classic country guitar and big production, he sings, "If you'll be my soft and sweet, I'll be your strong and steady, You be my glass of wine, I'll be your shot of whiskey."

If you listen to country radio, you've probably heard it dozens of times already. It's gone No. 1 on the country charts, and is Shelton's highest-charting Billboard 200 song to date.

The album features several of these ready-for radio love songs, which find new, clever ways to get the job done. "Ready to Roll" features a funky bass line and a George Strait-style vocal, while "Sunny in Seattle" takes a slower tempo and adds a steel guitar to the mix. Slightly more playful are the cleverly worded "Get Some," and "Hey."

The contributions of veteran Nashville songwriting teams and top-notch studio musicians make this album a perfectly-executed hit, which looks to be Shelton's first No. 1 record. It adds up to a win for Shelton, whose career seems to continue on its upward trajectory. 

*This article first published 7/19/2011