Honestly, the Only Way I Know How

blake-shelton-if-im-honest-album-coverIf I’m being honest, Blake Shelton’s latest, and easily his strongest, release is without doubt the most genuine and emotional material currently available for listening pleasure. The autobiographical album titled If I’m Honest is a carefully crafted 15 song masterpiece that exposes the turmoil the country singer experienced the past year, leaving no page left unturned. Its narrative driven and straightforward lyrics perfectly describe the grief, resentment, hopefulness, and eventual revival Shelton faced, all while maintaining the public image of the fun-loving, comedic, charmer many have come to love. Though he only actually co-wrote two of the 15 tracks on the new album, its apparent when you listen to each song that Shelton guided the song-writing process, hand-picking each song on there to ensure his story was not misrepresented. Every lyric is just as sincere as the next, staying with you long after you’ve finished listening to the album.

Though some critics have already accused Blake of “playing it safe” with his “vague” lyrics on If I’m Honest, I think it’s important to point out the obvious. Divorce is never easy, especially not for people who spend as much time in the spotlight as Blake and Miranda have. While he could have most certainly chosen to be much more blunt and crude in his storytelling the way certain artists can be, Shelton instead chose to proceed with class. He may have done so in typical Blake fashion, of course, but it was done with class, nonetheless. The Okie from Muskogee turned down potential would be hits from other song-writers because his intention wasn’t to create an album of radio hits, but simply an outlet in which to deal with the roller coaster that had become his personal life. So although some may not think the lyrics on If I’m Honest are transparent or revealing enough, I believe it’s fair to argue that if you know anything at all about Blake Shelton then you know that this album is as insightful as the singer can get musically. This is as honest as it gets for The Voice coach.

If I’m Honest opens with a drinking with a purpose anthem for the rowdy folks, “Straight Outta Cold Beer.” While the darker tone of the song may bring out the inner redneck in us all, it certainly suggests that something isn’t quite right, and that cold beer may not be all that’s brewing for poor Blake. This idea is then proven on the next track, “She’s Got a Way With Words,” as it is most definitely the most bitter and “angriest” song on the album, without actually coming off as overly angry. It more so not so subtly hints at the resentment Blake is clearly holding onto and gives listeners clearer insight into what or who may have been behind the cause of his and Miranda’s divorce. Lyrics like “she put a big F U in my future” and “little words like “I” and “do,” lying, cheating, screwed, yeah all the words I thought I knew, they got a brand new meaning now” are unmistakable indicators of a love gone horribly wrong. The song as a whole delivers in the most blatantly honest way.

Despite the shadowy mood the first two tracks cast on the album, the next two that follow, “I Bet You Still Think About Me” and “Every Time I Hear That Song” have a much more somber effect and are reminiscent of love lost. The anguish and longing for what was once held dear are truly real as Blake croons the chorus, “like I think about you even when I don’t want to” and “I know we couldn’t hold on forever, but I bet you still think about me.” Shelton’s pain is more than relatable during “Every Time I Hear That Song” as he sings “there’s something in the bittersweet, the feeling of a memory, right there in the moment all I ever wanted was you and me.” I dare anyone to try to get through these two songs without reliving your own awful heartbreak. After the tear stains that tracks three and four will no doubt leave you with comes the first single off the album, “Came Here to Forget.” Suddenly the atmosphere shifts and it becomes all too apparent what’s changed.

Blake-Shelton-steely-eyed-2016-rotWhen Blake sings the lyrics, “misery loves company, that’s why it’s you and me….doing our best to make the best of the worst of it,” it’s obvious he’s taking comfort in the fact that he’s found someone else who is also dealing with the aftermath of having been burned by their former lover. The song itself, though, is positively edgier than anything else the Oklahoma native has released so far, and an interesting mix of Nashville meets California. When this song was first released to radio, I for one was surprised at just how much the singer was actually disclosing. Up to this point in the album, there’s no doubt the first few songs were about Miranda, and Blake’s feelings toward her and their divorce. Once we get to “Came Here to Forget,” though, the object of Blake’s attention deviates and so does the ambiance of the album. After now hearing If I’m Honest in its entirety, it’s evident “Came Here to Forget” only lays the groundwork for what’s to come.
The bitter taste the divorce left with Shelton has disappeared, and the light at the end of that very dark tunnel has emerged once we reach the sixth track on the album, “Every Goodbye.”

Acceptance and optimism are at the front of this song as Blake sings, “I could kill the pain that you’ve been in, you can be my heartbreak medicine, proof that even dark clouds have a silver lining” and “there’s a reason that we’re both here right now, and a reason everything didn’t work out.” It’s clear Blake has accepted the unfortunate hand he was dealt and is ready to move on with Gwen. However, as he sings about the difficulty of parting ways when morning comes on “It Ain’t Easy,” acceptance then turns to full on embracing the fate that brought the two of them together. It’s really on the next song, though, “A Guy With a Girl,” that listeners truly begin to see the adoration Blake has for Gwen. As he brags about being “the guy with the girl everybody wants to know” female fans can’t help but wish they were in her shoes as he continues to sing about wondering how he ever got her and that he “ain’t ever gonna let her go.” If you weren’t already swooning over Blake, you will be after hearing “ A Guy With a Girl,” as the song is completely swoon worthy.

One song on the album that seems to have fans and critics talking as of late is the song Blake and Gwen performed on The Voice finale and the Billboard Music Awards, “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.” The majority of the complaints about this song seem to be that it’s not country and her voice doesn’t mesh well with his. The thing I think people need to understand about this song is that, like every other song on this album, it wasn’t meant to be a hit. It didn’t matter what the sound came off as. It was a song Blake was trying to impress Gwen with. He wrote half, told her to write the other half, and the duet was born. People should see this song for what it is – a confession between two people who have had their hearts broken but are risking heartache again because they just happened to find a new and exciting love in one another. Personally, I think the song is a slam dunk, and hands down one of the most honest and emotional songs on the album. Whether fans and critics love or hate the song doesn’t seem to matter to Blake and Gwen, though, as they are happily carrying on their relationship without the worry of what others are thinking or saying. I say more power to them.

The only two tracks on If I’m Honest that seem to stick out a little are “Friends,” which was written for The Angry Birds movie, and “Green,” which was already featured on one of Blake’s previous albums. As Blake sings on “Friends” about the unlikely allegiance and friendship that has formed between two people, it raises the suggestion that this is one track he isn’t talking about his new love interest, but perhaps buddy and fellow Voice coach, Adam Levine. It’s no secret the two have become best buddies since coaching on The Voice together, and I would bet money that Blake found not just a “rough and rowdy” compadre, but an inspiration for this particular track in Adam. Regardless, “Friends” and “Green” don’t necessarily take away from the overall quality of the album.

BlakeShelton2016bIt’s on Blake’s collaboration with The Oakridge Boys, “Doing It to Country Songs” that I think listeners will hear the traditional sound many fell in love with. It’s a country song in the simplest definition of the word country that can still appeal to fans of Blake’s more recent modern sound. “One Night Girl” and “You Can’t Make This Up” are the last two tracks on the album about Gwen, but they’re both unforgettable tracks. While “One Night Girl” describes the beginning stage of a relationship and not having enough time with someone because you’re so enchanted by them, it’s also quite possibly the sweetest compliment the country singer could give Gwen. “You Can’t Make This Up” is the track that depicts how the couple actually met, though. The song literally plays out like a Hallmark movie, and as Shelton explains in the song, “I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it.”

The final, but probably most significant song on If I’m Honest is “Savior’s Shadow.” As Blake has explained in previous interviews, the idea for the song came to him in a dream. When he woke up, he wrote everything down and went to (songwriter) Jessi Alexander who then brought (songwriter) Jon Randall on board to help write it. The gospel song tells the story of someone who has reached their lowest point, and whose life has become so depressing that even Jesus is crying for him. And though the devil is trying to break him, he won’t give in, as his faith that Jesus is beside him keeps him on course. It’s undeniably the most haunting and beautiful song the country singer has ever written, and as Jessi Alexander stated, “is almost his “Why Me Lord.” For those unfamiliar with the Kris Kristofferson song, it too came out of nowhere when it was released and was about having faith in The Lord. Both “Savior’s Shadow” and “Why Me Lord” tackle the subject that we all struggle with internally. The lesson both songs leave you with is that no matter what you’re going through, and no matter how dark your world may get, don’t question your faith. Just know that you’re not alone.

Blake is in no way the first country artist tell a story with his music. Plenty of artists get personal in their music. However, in my opinion, he is an artist who has created what I think can only be considered a timeline set to music. If I’m Honest doesn’t just tell the story of someone’s personal life. It takes the listeners on the journey with the narrator. Every song is another chapter from the past year of Blake’s personal life. The fact that he chose to share it with his fans and did so with such grace speaks volumes to his character. He completely nailed this album, whether it was intentional or not. Blake sang the truth and in the end he ended up with what should be considered an incredibly profound and relatable album that has some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in a long time. If you’ve ever had gone through a messy breakup, felt lost in life, and/or found a love in the most surprising person, and that person turned out to be the light that ended up saving your life, then you should definitely give If I’m Honest a listen. Hell, even if you haven’t experienced any of those things, but just enjoy good music, give this album a listen anyway. It’s hands down one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

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"MADD" Manda Walsh
Chicago native and Saint Xavier University alum (class of 2007), Amanda Walsh is an aspiring journalist with a strong passion for music and longtime love of writing. While in college, she spent her time volunteering as a radio DJ, working as the station’s Music Director, and serving as a regular contributing writer for the campus newspaper where she combined her love for music and writing. Between attending multiple concerts a month all over the city, interviewing various bands both in and out of the studio, and introducing her friends and show listeners to new artists (both local and national acts), it was during this time that Amanda really discovered her niche. Whether listening alone with her headphones or experiencing it live in person, music has always been Amanda’s safe haven and more like a religion, with concerts feeling more like going to church. Today the number of artist interviews under her belt continues to grow, as she strives to break new and up and coming artists before other outlets. She also continues to attend as many concerts as her bank account will allow. Her musical tastes range from “OMG you have to hear this” to “please don’t judge me,” and she is the person you want on your team in music trivia. She is also an avid enthusiast of the paranormal and anything in the realm of horror or the creepy and unnerving. With that said, she loves Halloween more than a normal person probably should and has a fascination with cemeteries. Aside from music and concerts, Amanda also enjoys reading, shopping and epic adventures. She's a sucker for a good mystery and anything acoustic. When she was a kid she wanted to be Nancy Drew when she grew up. At the end of the day, if she had to describe herself with a song lyric it would be this – “I’m somewhere in between what is real and just a dream.”
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