"I'll probably never be a guy like Phil Vassar that can write a whole album for myself and then write three or four more hits for somebody else."
While his songwriting skills are what initially got Shelton's foot in the Nashville music business door, they are not his primary calling card these days.
"The songwriter part of me is maybe the smallest part of my overall career. But even though I know I can write a song, in my lifetime, I can't write that many hit songs. I think that there are so many (great) songs out there that it would be foolish for me not to go out and find the best possible songs I can find. If hadn't of done that on my first album, I wouldn't have had 'Austin' (which spent 5 weeks at number 1 in April 2001) or 'Ol' Red.' Now with the second album, it's 'The Baby.' I can't imagine passing on those songs, just to have a song that I have writing credit on, on the album."
In Shelton's mind, there are two distinct kinds of songs: There are those songs that make for mindless radio entertainment, and then there are those that demand a life-changing emotional response.
"It's not hard to write a song that gets a lot of air play on the radio because it's in the middle, and it doesn't offend anybody. It's just down the middle of the road, and those songs are easy to write. But it's hard to write songs that move people emotionally and speak to them in a way that just might, perhaps, offend another person. But those are the types of songs that sell albums, and those are the songs (that) go on to become standards and mean something in the long run, and those are the types of songs I'm most interested in."
The first single from "The Dreamer" is a song simply titled "The Baby." Shelton knew right from the start that this was one of those special songs.
"That's about the only song that I'd ever heard in my life that I knew from the moment I heard it that I wanted to record it. The other one being 'Ol' Red.' It was one of those moments probably lot of people had when they first heard 'The Baby,' which was: if you're not crying, you're trying not to. I just knew in my mind, wow, that's not only something everybody's going to have to go through at some point (watching a son or daughter leave home for good), but a lot of people already have, and that's going to speak to them. I recorded the thing immediately because I didn't want anybody else to get their hands on it before I did."
Shelton wrote two of the songs - the title cut, "The Dreamer," and "My Neck Of The Woods" and both reflect some of Shelton's recent experiences.
"My Neck Of The Woods," for example, speaks of his relatively new home. "I live on a farm in the middle of Tennessee, which is in the middle of nowhere. It (the song) is kind of reminiscent of that area and the people I've met since I've been there."
He's really starting to take to this life on the farm. "I bought a tractor, and I'm enjoying trying to plant some things - oats and wheat. That 's kind of a hobby of mine - to dabble in farming a little bit."
Private moments, such as working on his farm, are privileges Shelton dearly treasures. But success can sometimes rob a man of simple pleasures.
The song "The Dreamer," for example, dishes out a harsh dosage of reality about the illusions that many times accompany entertainment success stories. "I thought I needed fortune/I thought I needed fame."
"It has its ups and downs," Shelton says of fame and fortune. "You've got to give up a lot to do what I do. And the first thing is pretty much every bit of your personal life. And that was the hardest thing for me. On the one hand, you get everything you've been hoping for, which includes hearing your song on the radio. You see the dream come true a little bit. But on the other hand, you lose some things that you already had that were important to you."
One of the people helping Shelton keep his sanity during this, his quick assent to the top of the music business, is his producer Bobby Braddock. Braddock's credentials as an artist are exemplary, to say the least, having written "He Stopped Loving Her Today," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "I Wanna Talk About Me." And his 'take charge' attitude has helped to remove some of the guesswork out of the whole studio experience.
"It's never come down to us arguing in the studio because I've learned just to shut my mouth and listen to him or just stay out of his way. Because normally when he's there and he's brainstorming, and he tries to explain something to me, it at first sounds weird to me, and it scares me. And man, I'll think, 'he can't do that. It'll suck'. So, I've learned just to stay out of his way, and if I'll let him just try some things, normally he'll come up with something that works."
Shelton has also learned to trust this master songwriter's well-developed instincts about good songs, when it comes to choosing what to record.
"Bobby and I, to my knowledge, have never recorded a song that we weren't both over the top excited about. And that's the way I want to continue to do it. To have somebody as brilliant as Bobby Braddock to work with you on an album, it would just be a waste not to have strong input from him as far as song selection goes."
Shelton tries to present an honest picture of himself with his albums and performances, and nothing warms his heart more than to hear from fans who pick up accurately on just who this artist really is: a performer you just can't ignore.
"My favorite letters that I get are from people who see me as I want to be seen, and hear me in the same way that I want to be heard. Like when somebody says: 'I was driving today and I heard your song 'The Baby' on the radio, and I had to pull over and call my mom.' And then they go on to say, 'The kinds of songs you sing matter. They mean something to people. It's not just background music.'"