Blake Shelton is the new balladeer of beers and tears

Oklahoma crooner is at Nissan tomorrow

Music

July 28, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

During his rare hours of relaxation, Blake Shelton wanted something real and earthy to play.

"Drinking a beer and kicking back -- that's how I unwind," says the country star, who's calling from a tour stop in Fresno, Calif. "I wanted to make a record that you can play on a jukebox somewhere in a friendly bar or something."

He's talking about his latest album, Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill. The gold-selling disc, his third release overall, is the singer-songwriter's most fully realized set to date. Eschewing the hook-filled, super-glossy sound Nashville has been churning out for a while now, Shelton, 29, keeps things fun, stripped-down and well-balanced on Barn & Grill. He brings his smart, ingratiating brand of country to Nissan Pavilion tomorrow night.

Although the photogenic Oklahoma native has already released two well-received, gold-selling albums -- his 2001 self-titled debut and 2003's The Dreamer -- Shelton has yet to break in a major way on the pop front. His first single, 2001's "Austin," topped the country charts for five weeks. And two more cuts from the debut -- "All Over Me" and "Ol' Red" -- were big smashes. But they still didn't garner the artist the kind of mainstream attention lavished upon Tim McGraw or Toby Keith. Shelton's style, though at times unabashedly sappy, is generally artful but accessible.

He says, "Country to me -- I can't speak for anybody else -- it's real life and real times. They're not always happy. It's about things that people go through. I want people to hear my songs and laugh and cry. Life isn't always rainbows and flowers."

Shelton had his eyes set on a career in country long before high school graduation. Growing up in Oklahoma, he absorbed Merle Haggard and George Jones and knew someday he'd croon the same kind of tunes, those "drinking-and-crying songs," Shelton calls them. At 17, he left his hometown of Ada and moved to Nashville. He shopped his songs around for a few years before landing a deal with Warner Bros. Nashville Records.

"I'm real proud of my first two records," the singer says. "But I think they were inconsistent, like I was searching for my voice. I think I found it on Barn & Grill."

An imposing presence at 6-feet-5-inches, Shelton attributes the fluidity and balance of his new record to his uncomplicated life away from the stage and studio. He married his longtime sweetheart, Kaynette, two years ago.

"It's good, man, real good," Shelton says of the marriage. "Just getting older and real life have made me get to that place I am now, a comfortable place, you know? I think it's there in the music."

In keeping with his got-to-be-real ethos, Shelton offers a mix of humorous and somber tales on Barn & Grill. "Some Beach," the hit off the CD, is a lighthearted look at an average day when everything seems to go wrong. "The Bartender" is told from the perspective of, well, a bartender who details his customers' private woes. Overseen by country veteran Bobby Braddock, the production throughout is refreshingly uncluttered, the grooves immediate and strong.

"I'd like to have a platinum album one day," Shelton says. "I want to get to the point where I'm headlining my own tours. Once your dreams come true, other dreams start popping up around you. It's always about getting to that next level."

See Blake Shelton with Rascal Flatts at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge, 7800 Cellar Door in Bristow, Va. Tickets are $23-54 and are available through TicketMaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster.com

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