That is exactly the image that Shelton would like to convey. After all, he does a good job of making his fans think that his brand of modern country music is soaked in the same cask of outlaw country moonshine that Lynyrd Skynyrd, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard made popular decades earlier. A good portion of his songs draw on themes of drinking, carousing, shooting guns, and raising hell. It’s a clever trick for a musician who was CMA “Entertainer of the Year” in 2012 and who is probably most widely-known for his irreverent role as a judge on the hit television show, “The Voice.”
To his credit, most of Shelton’s hits on this night did not stray far from that rebel guise. Songs like “The More I Drink,” “Kiss My Country Ass” and “ Hillbilly Bone” paid worship to Shelton’s musical heroes and rattled the roof with their ear-bleeding guitar bluster.
But if you strip away the gimmicky bronze of those tracks, it is easy to grasp that Shelton’s full catalog is more fine-tuned, soulful, and trailblazing. “Mine Would Be You” was more attune to a crafty Keith Urban power ballad while “Sure Be Cool If You Did” seemed to shed the honky tonk swagger in favor of a more John Mayer emotive-pop. “Neon Light” also elevated Shelton’s artistry to a new foothold with its banjo-driven riff locking horns with the roar of the infectious hook.
Shelton then segued effortlessly to solo acoustic renditions of “Over You” and the duet “My Eyes” (with “Voice” contestant Gwen Sebastian). In full command of the crowd, both tracks showcased the witty and self-deprecating Shelton at his marketable best. Outlaw or not, he has our attention.
Kris K. Coe is a freelance writer, Denver-native and regular contributor to Reverb.