Earlier this month in New York, Blake Shelton treated a small crowd of about 100 people to an hour-long concert that showcased songs from his forthcoming album Bringing Back the Sunshine, which will be released on September 30th. That same day, the show, which was filmed and recorded in Tribeca’s intimate iHeartRadio theater, will be broadcast on Clear Channel radio stations all across the country.
In between most songs during his performance, Shelton took questions from radio host Bobby Bones, discussing everything from his whirlwind career to favorite underwear brand (whatever they sell at Walmart). Backed by a seven-piece band, the country superstar performed a nine-song set of new tunes and old favorites, opening with 2011’s chart-topping “Honey Bee” and closing with his latest ode to drinking away the blues, “Neon Lights.”
When asked about the significance of the album’s uplifting title, Shelton was uncharacteristically soft spoken. “Who wants to bring back the clouds?” he asked, before explaining that the sound of his new record harkens back to the type of country music he made at the very beginning of his career.
Here are ten unclouded things we learned at Shelton’s Bringing Back the Sunshine album release party:
Shelton can thank wife Miranda Lambert (and a haircut) for his ability to stay relevant with the newest batch of country stars.
After Bobby Bones asked him how he has somehow managed to fit in with both the older Nineties acts and the fresh generation of more recent stars like Luke Bryan, the “Neon Light” singer had a few easy answers. “I think cutting the mullet off was the first step,” he said of his trademark hairstyle in the beginning of his career. His other secret to staying mod was equally simple: “Being married to Miranda makes me seem younger.”
Shelton hates naming his own records.
“It’s never something you even think about until the last minute,” the singer said of his relaxed process of coming up with album titles. For Bringing Back the Sunshine, he simply named it after the project’s first song. “Who cares about the name of the album,” he told Bones. “It’s what on it that counts.”
This time around, the singer wants fans to pay more attention to the lyrics.
Introducing “Anyone Else,” a dark song about professional jealousy and selfish competition, the Oklahoma native urged his audience to listen closely. “If there’s ever a time I’d encourage listening to the words…,” Shelton said of the song whose chorus ends with the bitter line, “Why can’t you be happy for anyone else?” “This one is way deeper than ‘chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit’,” he quipped.
Shelton gives a shout-out to deer in the new album’s liner notes.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about this country boy, it’s that he still makes time for his favorite sport: hunting. “I always thank deer for existing; hunting just makes me happy,” he told Bones after being asked to explain why he chose to name-check his doomed targets in the liner notes. “I just like to be there in the woods, sitting in the deer stand… drinking my face off.”
Shelton will be return as a host for the ACM Awards in 2015.
The singer spontaneously told the crowd that he’ll be returning for a fifth consecutive year to host the ACM Awards next spring. “I’m probably not supposed to announce that, but I don’t give a crap,” he told the crowd as they cheered on his announcement. “They don’t pay me much anyway.”
As for Luke Bryan, who has co-hosted the awards show with Shelton the past two years? Shelton didn’t comment on whether his friend would be back, but he did say he was happy to have beaten Bryan, for once, for iHeartRadio’s 2014 Country Song of the Year award.
CeeLo is the only original Voice coach with whom Shelton never got into a fight.
Reminiscing about the show’s first season, Shelton told Bobby Bones about the various disagreements that he, Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera would routinely have off-camera. “There were times we were pissed and would have it out backstage,” the now three-time Voice winner revealed. Despite the arguments, though, Shelton repeatedly emphasized that the stress of the first season allowed for some serious bonding. “We stuck together and became like family, and we’re all lifelong friends now,” he said. As for CeeLo, there were never any conflicts. “I love him,” Shelton said admiringly. “He still texts me.”
Bringing Back the Sunshine shows his elusive vulnerable side.
The first new song of the evening was “I Need My Girl,” a confessional that finds The Voice star pleading and begging for his long-distance lover. “I don’t need nothing else baby in this world/I need my girl like my life depends on you walking through that door,” Shelton sang alone at the mic, without a guitar, during the song’s anxious, frenzied chorus. Songs like “I Need My Girl” and “Anyone Else” hinted at a more contemplative tone for Shelton’s ninth studio record.
Miranda Lambert is a favored tour boss over her husband.
Voice alum, recording artist and backup singer Gwen Sebastian is so beloved by Shelton and Lambert that they fight over which one of them gets to take her out on the road. Lately Shelton has been winning the argument, due to “My Eyes,” his chart-topping collaboration with Sebastian. But when Bones asked her who is more fun to tour with, Sebastian had an easy answer: “I’m not going to hide it — Miranda.”
Shelton and Lambert have a new favorite road trip song.
“This is one of my favorites for Miranda and I to drive around and back road to,” Shelton said before playing “South of Heaven,” one of four Sunshine songs that he performed for the intimate New York crowd. The track is a nostalgic summer romance tune with a wistful chorus that paints the picture of a “summertime shooting star paradise” that’s possibly about to end. With its syncopated drum loops and sing-along hooks, Shelton’s latest ode to summer love is a surefire future hit.
Shelton is a sap when it comes to favorites in his own catalog.
For a show showcasing his new record, Shelton’s iHeartRadio performance leaned heavily on the hits. After opening with “Honey Bee,” he interspersed new material with several other love songs including “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” “Doin’ What She Likes,” and what he calls “one of my favorite songs I’ve ever recorded,” the sentimental “Mine Would Be You.”
As for the new songs? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Expect the same types of big choruses, heartfelt confessions, steel guitar and a lot of twang. Shelton isn’t abandoning the tried-and-true country sound of his last couple of platinum-selling albums anytime soon.