Blake Shelton may have chosen the amusing title “Pure BS” for his fourth album, but it’s the “pure” part of the name that most aptly describes the music.
Traditional-minded but produced with a contemporary edge, “Pure BS” perfectly showcases Shelton as a powerful and expressive vocalist while also showing off his impressive songwriting skills on three of the tracks.
To get that “pure” sound, Shelton pushed himself harder than ever before as a singer and as a writer and stepped out of his comfort zone in the studio to work with some first rate producers who pushed him even more. The end result, Shelton believes, is his best album to date, and one that has already spawned the hit single “Don’t Make Me.”
In addition to his longtime collaborator, Bobby Braddock, Shelton worked with producers Brent Rowan and Paul Worley on his new CD, an experience that proved to be fruitful. In the end, Braddock and Rowan each produced four of the album’s tracks, and Worley helmed three. But the finished CD reveals that all three producers shared the same vision.
That vision sprang from his last album, “Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill,” which featured Shelton’s hit remake of Conway Twitty’s “Goodbye Time.” When that song became a single, the artist says people frequently told him “I didn’t know you could sing like that.” Those comments inspired him to “showcase what I can do vocally a little more” on “Pure BS.”
While he says the “hard times, broken heart, drinking songs” are still where he’s vocally the most comfortable, Shelton and his producers also looked for songs that, he says, “pushed me to sing better and to see how far my range could go.”
Shelton had worked exclusively with Braddock on his first three CDs. “Bobby and I were very successful together,” he says. “We’ve sold two and a half million albums with our work together. I’m very proud of that. At the same time, I felt like for the fourth album I didn’t want to completely abandon the sound that Bobby and I had together, but I wanted to explore new stuff. I didn’t want to keep making the same album over and over again.”
Shelton’s new producers pushed him to “try new things and see what’s still inside me that I haven’t tapped into yet.” And sure enough, he says, “I did find more of myself that I didn’t know was there. I had to dig down deeper and be uncomfortable again with somebody that I didn’t know that well in the studio and feel like I had something to prove to that person.”
With Rowan and Worley, he says, “I didn’t really know what would happen when he and I went in the studio together, but man, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the stuff we made together.”
That’s not to say it was easy. Worley in particular was a tough task master. “In the studio with Paul, I would sing something that I thought sounded great and he’d hit that talkback button and say ‘Man I know you’ve got better than that in there.’ It was frustrating, but you step up and you sing harder and you reach for a note that maybe you wouldn’t have even tried,” Shelton says. “It turned out to be the right call.”
For Shelton, 2006 was a time of personal and professional changes. He and his wife amicably divorced and Shelton moved back to his home state of Oklahoma, declaring Nashville a place where he “could never get totally comfortable. It’s just way too big for me.” On the professional side, Shelton joined forces with veteran manager Narvel and Brandon Blackstock, who also handle the career of Reba McEntire.
His newfound sense of freedom even inspired a new look as Shelton shed his trademark long curls for a shorter hairstyle that more closely matches his growing maturity and stature as an artist.
After a difficult year, Shelton can relate to every song on “Pure BS,” saying they’re all “pretty much were I am as a person right now. It’s not that bad of a place. I’ve been through some tough times but . . . I feel good right now. I want to sing about a lot of those things I’ve gone through and a lot of those emotions. That’s what’s going to help me come through a better person on the other side.”
As an artist, Shelton has shown steady growth and momentum since his impressive 2001 debut, which earned him the title of Radio & Records magazine’s breakthrough country artist that year. His hits run the gamut from the sweet sentiments of “Austin,” and “The Baby” through Shelton’s powerful take on “Goodbye Time” and on to the hilarious “Some Beach” and the wildly original prison break story song, “Ol’ Red.”
The collection of songs on “Pure BS” is equally diverse, ranging from “She Can’t Get That” -- a cheating song with a twist -- to the funny “The More I Drink,” in which alcohol turns the song’s character into “the world’s greatest lover and a dancing machine.” Among the album’s other standout tracks are a remake of the edgy Chris Knight/Craig Wiseman song “It Ain’t Easy Being Me,” and the sing-along anthem “The Last Country Song,” which features guest vocals from two of Shelton’s all-time heroes, John Anderson and George Jones.
Shelton and Braddock wrote “The Last Country Song” with Michael Kosser. The lyrics, while largely about farmland giving way to development, also reference Anderson’s classic song “Swingin’” and Jones’ signature song “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“What I love about that song is the statement it makes not only about America, but about country music, about how what a lot of us have gotten comfortable with and used to and love about country music is going away,” Shelton says of the track. “It’s changing, and whether it’s for better or for worse there’s no stopping it.”
Despite all his professional achievements, Shelton has a unique vision for what will ultimately define his success as an artist.
“I will never stop looking for that next level of my career and how to get there, but not for the reasons that a lot of people want to get there,” he says. “I’m not chasing a dollar and I’m not trying to be the king of the mountain. I want to be that guy who, when some old guy is driving down a back road somewhere 20 years from now, he still has one of my old CDs that he’s been listening to all that time.
“I want to make those albums that [last] forever that people never throw away. When they break it they go buy another one because I sing songs that they really relate to and my music means something to them. That’s what I’m chasing.”