Blake Shelton has one of the best voices in country music today, bringing pure emotion and an amazing depth to (almost) everything he sings. I just wish the material on "Startin' Fires" did a better job highlighting that beautiful talent.
By far the strongest songs are those lamenting love lost or unattainable. Looking for forgiveness and hoping for redemption (not unique themes in country music, of course) are just perfectly matched to Shelton's warm, sexy and versatile voice, and his Oklahoma drawl -- almost hidden in his early hits like the still awesome "Austin" -- is on full display here, and it really works on the country ballads.
The Number One single "She Wouldn't Be Gone" is the album's stand-out, emotionally and vocally. The pain of realizing that a simple gesture or kind word was all the was needed to keep love alive comes through so convincingly, his vocals going from thoughtfulness and insight to loss and desperation to deep, deep sadness with such intensity, you can almost literally feel his pain. A great, great single and the best song on the album. (Good video, too.)
The gentle "100 Miles" is of a similar theme, and is another standout, Shelton's Oklahoma drawl seems to come through even more than usual, which works especially well here, bringing to mind empty roads and a long trip home to the girl he shouldn't have left behind. (One note: Every time I hear the song, I think it really needs to repeat the chorus just one more time at the end. Probably done to keep it country radio-friendly, sure, but there's no reason to cut it short on the album version. It bugs me every time.)
I also really like "I'll Just Hold On" -- the current single -- although I think it's an odd choice for a single. Shelton's vocals are effective and smooth (but maybe a teensy bit whiny by the end of the song). And the lyrics are so wussy -- the guy's basically a slave to the whims of his uncommitted, promiscuous lover. Not your typical macho country song -- give him credit for that -- but I just don't see this climbing the charts. "100 Miles" might have been a better choice for a single. Time will tell. Let's hope the video is a good complement.
"Here I Am" is a ridiculously romantic tale of unexpectedly finding a new love and the whole happily ever after thing -- kind of a 3-minute-long romance novel that is surprisingly affecting thanks to Shelton's Prince Charming-quality presentation. The sweet "I Don't Care," -- another country "story song" is worth a listen. However, it will certainly sound familiar to any Shelton fan -- it's also on his last album, the amazing "Pure B.S." whereas "Home," a number one country single, isn't on "Startin' Fires" -- it's on the re-issue of "Pure B.S." (I have the original release so don't have it.) I'm sure there's some legal or logistical reason -- and I already own "Home" via download so it's safely added to the B.S. playlist on my mp3 player -- but it's still a little annoying because I can't hear it in my car (where I still listen to old-fashioned CDs).
Most of the other songs are fine but not noteworthy -- expect that Shelton does sing them very, very well. "This Is Gonna Take All Night" is a cutesy but not terribly sexy song about giving the wife a little well-deserved attention in the bedroom (for a much, MUCH sexier take listen to "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes" on the new Dierks Bentley CD "Feel that Fire"-- now THAT'S the call any wife would love to hear!)."Green" is too trendy (and has been done to death) to be worthy of opening the CD and certainly doesn't come close to the kick-ass country rocker "This Can't Be Good" that opens "Pure B.S."
I hate to say it, but there are some just bad songs on the
CD as well. "Bearskin Rug" is supposed to be a fun hillbilly tale but
I just find it kind of silly, hard on the ears and even a bit creepy. Can't
stand listening to it, to be honest. And "Country Strong" is another
one that didn't make the transfer from the CD to my mp3 player. Listening to
Shelton wax poetic about a buff country boy's bod ("can't get them muscles
at the YMCA!") strikes me as just so damned odd. Maybe it would it sound
better sung by a woman? I just don't quite know how to handle it coming from
one of People Magazine's Sexist Men
"Startin' Fires" continues to grow on me -- Shelton sure can sing! -- but I don't see it replacing "Pure B.S." as my favorite B.S. CD.