Label: STADIUM ENTERTAINMENT - Digital Release: My Country Smash Hits (Bundled - U.S. Only)
BLAKE SHELTON - BIOGRAPHY
There is probably no one better equipped to launch the hillbilly worldview into the age of cyberspace than Blake Shelton. An outspoken champion of the land, the honky-tonk and the off-road vehicle, he has found a way to bring those passions into the realm of downloads and instant messaging.
It started as he hit Twitter, a move as invigorating to Blake and his fans as it was unexpected.
"A year ago," he says, "Twitter sounded like something that couldn't be any more opposite of me, but I love being able to say something and get an instant reaction from people, because at heart that's why I got into this business. Twitter is in a small way like being on stage all day long. It's tons of fun for me."
It comes to full expression in Hillbilly Bone, a six-song album that is pure hillbilly energy. In a world where people are looking increasingly for real-time interaction with their musical idols, it is a project that lets Blake plug his traditionalist leanings into the 21st century.
"I talk to my fans every day," he says, "and the first question they ask me is, 'When are you going to release a new record?' I want to give my fans new music more often at a lower price. This SIX PAK is a way to take our relationship to the next level."
The project's first single is the wildly successful "Hillbilly Bone," a shot of pure adrenaline featuring Blake's long-time friend Trace Adkins.
"I wouldn't have wanted to try this project with any other leadoff single than 'Hillbilly Bone'," he says, "and that song would not have been the force that it is without Trace on it. He brings it. If I deliver the song pretty well, Trace is the reason it's over the top."
A rollicking joyride full of backwoods attitude celebrating the universal attraction of the honky-tonk life, it has proven to be the perfect representation of the country-boy-meets-cyberspace model.
"'Hillbilly Bone' is by a mile the biggest digital single and the fastest rising single I've had in my career," says Blake. "I've never been able to compete with artists like Taylor or Miranda, and this single is competing with those artists now."
It is the perfect leadoff to a project that is as much a representation of Blake's personality—both on and off stage—as it's possible for a CD to be. Drawing on top-shelf songwriters like Craig Wiseman and Rhett Akins, Blake has put together a CD that ranges from the rowdy "Kiss My Country Ass," an unabashed anthem to redneck pride, the hilarious "Can't Afford To Love You," and the smart-ass "Almost Alright," to the tender "You'll Always Be Beautiful" and the wistful, self-penned "Delilah."
"It's an energy-packed little album," he says with a laugh. "It's also about being this guy people are finding out about, which is who I've always been," he says. "It's really going to help define a different mood for me."
The SIX PAK is a model Blake wants to continue to pursue.
"This way," he says, "I'm constantly able to get new music out to country music fans and I can constantly be reinventing what I do. What's exciting for me is you never have to stop to refuel. I'll always be looking for and releasing good music."
His ability to do just that is the latest manifestation of musical promise that has shown itself since Blake was a boy in Ada, Oklahoma.
"I walked on stage one time when I was a kid and sang," he says. "I saw an instant reaction from people and I never got over that feeling." His family recognized both his talent and his love for the music, and his mother sent a tape to a local live country music show in his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma, when he was 12.
By 16, he was singing at weddings and parties, and before long he had beaten 3,500 contestants in a statewide talent contest.
He was performing at an awards ceremony when he met legendary songwriter Mae Axton ("Heartbreak Hotel"), who encouraged him to move to Nashville. He was just 17 and two weeks out of high school when he took her advice.
After three years of odd jobs and struggling, he was discouraged enough to consider leaving town when he met another legendary writer—Bobby Braddock ("He Stopped Loving Her Today"). Before long, Blake was signed to Giant Records, although success was still elusive. It took four years until his first single came out, and a week later, the label folded.
He was quickly picked up by Warner Bros., though, and the single "Austin" became a five-week #1 single. Each of his first three albums went gold, and each produced a chart-topping single—"The Baby" from The Dreamer and "Some Beach" from Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill.
As he became more comfortable in the spotlight, Blake began allowing more of his relaxed and irreverent personality into his stage show. The result is a live show renowned as one of music's most enjoyable. At the same time, he became increasingly recognized as one of the genre's finest singers.
His fourth album, Pure BS, also went gold and produced a back-to-back #1 single, "Home," at a time when Blake's presence on television was increasing.
"More and more," he says, "people identify me with my personality as much as they do with my music. At a show, I guarantee I'll meet 20 guys and girls who say, 'I love what you said to Kathie Lee Gifford' or 'I saw you on that hunting show.' I think I've got the best of both worlds."
Starting Fires produced "She Wouldn't Be Gone," yet another multiple week #1 single, and solidified Blake's reputation as a vocalist.
"The last album or two I pushed myself as a singer," he says, "and I think I proved what I'm capable of. I'll always push myself, but with Hillbilly Bone it was more about finding songs with that attitude I want to convey and then just delivering them the best way I can. More than anything I'd like people to hear me sing and think, 'That's good music.'"
Blake's personal life has been one of his greatest sources of strength. A few years back, he sold his Nashville farm and relocated to a farm outside his hometown.
"I wouldn't change a thing right now," he says simply. He is satisfied with a life that he recognizes as a work in progress.
"Musically I'm still finding things out about me, and I'm still learning about who I am as a person. Every time I think I'm settling in, I find something new. I think I'll probably always be that way."
Along the way, the music he makes continues to be some of country's finest. With Hillbilly Bone, it is also, in this computerized age, some of its most rooted, its most honest, and without a doubt its most fun.