Blake Shelton arrived in a big way back in 2001, with debut single “Austin” topping the charts for five straight weeks. Since then, he has sometimes struggled to keep the ball rolling, usually suffering one or two lower-charting singles in between bona fide hits. His two most recent singles gave him his first ever consecutive #1s. While we wait to see if “I’ll Just Hold On” will be lucky number three or a deal-breaker, here’s a ranked look at his output so far. Feel free to give your own rankings (of as many albums as you have) in the comments.
1. Barn & Grill (2004)
Shelton’s third album is his best to date, a well-balanced collection of traditional-flavored contemporary fare. With a renewed passion and songs from the likes of Paul Overstreet, Shawn Camp, Roger Murrah, Jim Lauderdale, Leslie Satcher, and Mary Gauthier, Shelton improved by leaps and bounds over the sophomore album released just the previous year. The cover of Conway Twitty’s “Goodbye Time” was a watershed moment for him artistically, his coming-out party as a great balladeer. It came at just the right time, as Shelton was due to either reveal something new about himself or pack up and go home. When this album produced three consecutive top ten hits (his longest string of successes to date), it was clear that he was here to stay.
2. Startin’ Fires (2008)
On his most recent album, Shelton finally seems to have a strong sense of the sound and material that works best for him, but takes so few chances that songs tend to bleed together as a result. This is the first album that seems like a fully-realized artistic statement, with Shelton fully and confidently inhabiting his place as one of the most convincing modern country crooners. But he’s at another one of those junctures where he needs to find new ways of stretching out and challenging himself artistically, as this album is consistency bordering on stagnation. One of the only songs that leaves any sort of lasting impression is the duet with Miranda Lambert on “Bare Skin Rug,” which is also the only song that doesn’t sound aimed directly at the country charts.
3. Pure BS (2007)
There are a few uptempo songs to balance things out (“The More I Drink” being the most memorable), but this feels like Shelton’s ballad album, an outgrowth of the credibility gained by way of “Goodbye Time” on the previous album. Sadly, there isn’t much here to match the quality of that earlier single. Aside from a Chris Knight cover, these are mostly middling contemporary songs penned by the usual suspects; sell them as he might, Shelton inevitably falls short of the high mark set by Barn & Grill. Nevertheless, a pretty listenable collection.
4. Blake Shelton (2001)
Shelton’s debut was a likable (if somewhat scrawny) traditional effort. Although it showed a great deal of energy and promise, there wasn’t much about it to suggest that the artist would still be a relevant market force a couple years down the road, much less nearly a decade later. Shelton’s most surprising trait has been his willingness to grow artistically, so it should be little surprise that his first effort was just that: a beginning. Not one of his better albums, but worth checking out for career highlights like “Austin” and “Ol’ Red.”
5. The Dreamer (2003)
Shelton’s sophomore effort founding him digging deeper into the southern rock side of things to very mixed effect. There are some good songs here, but they’re buried beneath overproduced pap like “Heavy Liftin'” that makes the album as a whole an almost unbearable listen.