Blake Shelton’s ‘Fully Loaded: God’s Country’ Compiles Recent Hits and a Few New Songs
It has been two years since Blake Shelton released a proper album, and the advent of the holiday season makes it an opportune time for a new release, especially considering that Shelton’s most recent hit is appropriately titled “God’s Country.” And so, the singer’s label has graced us with a hodgepodge of new songs and recent hits, titled “Fully Loaded: God’s Country.” The title is an appropriate one, as the set of songs runs like a nonstop string of country bangers with no filler. The titular single is packaged with three brand new tracks and a handful of selections from Shelton’s last two albums, along with a non-album cover thrown in for good measure. While hardly an essential release, it’s an effectively curated collection of recent work.
The title track, Shelton’s twenty-sixth number one hit, starts the album off with a bang, with cinematic, Western motifs, an especially commanding vocal from Shelton, and a sweeping, handclap-led chorus, affirming soil and savior, as if to immediately dispel any doubts of Shelton’s complete commitment to embodying all things country. Next, the second single, “Hell Right,” teams Shelton up with Trace Adkins for the first time since their 2009 collaboration “Hillbilly Bone.” Adkins chimes in with his baritone vocal, and he and Shelton take turns making assertions that warrant the titular phrase, for instance, “You ain’t done nothin’ if you did it half way.” It’s a song to lift spirits and keep the record in motion with plenty momentum. “Nobody But You,” a duet with Gwen Stefani, sounds like it’s just about halfway between Shelton and Stefani’s styles. It’s a country song, but with the ‘80 stylings that Stefani has long shown her fondness for. The vocal harmonies are the highlight of the song, with Stefani adding some twang to her usual pouty-lipped singing, and Shelton at his standard delivery, with the combination of their voices encapsulating everything that’s so winsome about this rather odd couple.
Following these three new cuts comes a slew of songs from 2016’s “If I’m Honest.” “Came Here to Forget” is one of Shelton’s most autobiographical songs, written in the aftermath of his breakup with Miranda Lambert, as he was beginning a new life with Gwen Stefani. It’s both an especially heartfelt song and an example of Shelton at his most skilled sonsmithing, the way it builds to the titular line and steel guitar refrain, condensing so much drama into a snappy tune. “She’s Got a Way With Words,” another song from the same album, is a more sarcastic take on the same subject matter, with classic lines like “She put the S.O.B. in sober” and “She put a big F.U. in my future” – country songwriting at its best. Originally given to Jake Owen, who found the song too caustic, the song seems to have found a natural voice in Shelton. “A Guy With a Girl” picks up the pace a bit, and finds Shelton on a brighter note, a return to the gushy sentiment of “Nobody But You.” To top off the selections from “If I’m Honest” comes “Everytime I Hear That Song,” a nostalgic number about being swept away by music, likely to have the very effect it describes for die-hard fans of Shelton.
The compilation moves on chronologically to Shelton’s last album, 2017’s “Texoma Shore” for another especially wholesome and optimistic number, “I’ll Name the Dogs,” a welcome change from troughs revisited in the first selections from the previous record. It’s hard to imagine a more lighthearted and gleeful song than this, and one can just picture Shelton and Stefani in a sort of “country living” montage, set to the tune. “I Lived It,” which Shelton has described as one of the greatest songs he has recorded, is another nostalgic cut, filled with small town imagery, referencing everything from Ford trucks to dip cans to the Dukes of Hazzard. “Turnin’ Me On,” another song confirmed to be about Stefani, is a feelgood ditty with Shelton sounding swell and spirited.
Next comes another new track, “Jesus Got a Tight Grip,” a pivot back toward the gospel that began the tracklist. The most memorable aspect of the song is the number of thoroughly country one-liners like “Good thing I had a good raisin’ / For all the Hell I’ve raised…” and “I’ve been a little more cold beer / Than holy water.” Finally, Shelton brings the album to closure with a cover of Bobby Bare’s 1980 tune “Tequila Sheila.” Recorded in the leadup to Shelton’s Friends & Heroes tour, and released late last year with several other classic country covers in “Friends & Heroes Sessions,” the song opens with a vocal from Bare himself, and is filled with the sound of audience revelry, bringing the album to a festive, uplifting end.
“Fully Loaded: God’s Country” is a compact compilation that serves as an update on Blake Shelton. It makes an effective case for the recent hits collection, rather than the full career retrospective. The songs selected here zero in on a specific stage in the singer’s life, and make for a focused, cohesive body of work. There’s a mix of heartbreak and resilience, but a slew of gushy lovesongs tips the balance with an overriding sense of heartwarming optimism. Peppered throughout is a heavy dose of nostalgia, and a liberal portion of lighthearted, feelgood fare. The overall essence of the album is a decidedly positive one, making it an apt record for this time of year.
“Fully Loaded: God’s Country” is available Dec. 13 on Apple Music.