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Blake Shelton

If I'm Honest – 2016 (Warner)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to be a light-hearted listen, despite his public demeanor. "I have never recorded a more personal or reflective album in my career," Shelton wrote on the cover insert. He said the 15-song release "touches both the highs and low of past year of my life." And that would first and foremost include his very public split with Miranda Lambert, which happened quickly and suddenly.

Shelton forlornly looks back at a relationship gone instead of engaging in finger pointing and succumbing to tears in his beer. "Bet You Still Think About Me" ("I bet you still think about me/Yeah like I think about you") and "Every Time I Hear That Song" almost make clear from the titles what you're going to hear - mid-tempo, mainly unvarnished tales of lament, which are a bit too big sounding and generic musically, especially the beats at the end of the latter. On the somewhat charged up, soulful "It Ain't Easy," Shelton opines, "It ain't easy any more/When I'm walking out your door."

Of course, not all is doom and gloom as Shelton sees brighter days ahead. About half way through, the mood transitions to his more typical uptempo, brighter songs, beginning with "A Guy With Girl." Shelton veers breezy musically with the radio ready "Go Ahead and Break My Heart," with girlfriend Gwen Stefani, whose own marriage to Gavin Rossdale smashed on the rocks as well. Stefani's delivery is a bit less nuanced than her typical No Doubt fare, and that plays to Shelton's advantage.

Shelton gets playful on "Doing It to Country Songs" with the smart choice of the Oak Ridge Boys providing vocal help to excellent effect and the more uptempo, but country-based "Green," an ode to farm life without forced sanctimony.

Shelton closes with the acoustic "Savior's Shadow," which he wrote with Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall. "Though the devil try to break me / My sweet Jesus won't forsake me / When I'm in my Savior's shadow / Where I'm supposed to be," sings Shelton. Smart choice to keep it simple after starting to rock a bit too much ("You Can't Make This Up") and returning to the core of the album - dealing with life's ups and downs.

The strength of the release is in the heartache and joy of the lyrics. A number of the songs border on the pleasant, but generic (the single "Came Here to Forget," the big sounding "You Can't Make This Up"). How about more pedal steel next time to evoke real sadness and discard the synth?

After a difficult year in where he's been the wronged partner, Shelton looks to the past and future. The past may not have been so easy, and presumably "If I'm Honest" gives Shelton a chance to examine, understand and overcome his marriage with a new love and a helping hand from above.