The short version: It may take a few listens to warm up to, but “God’s Country” is a welcome return to form for Blake Shelton.
- Writers: Devin Dawson, Michael Hardy, Jordan Schmidt
- Rating: 7/10
The long version: I’ll admit I’ve been one of Blake Shelton’s harsher critics.
Of course, it’s not like that criticism was always unjustified. For the past decade (and ever since joining The Voice, really), Shelton coasted on mediocrity and, at other times, God-awful material. The Shelton of the 2000s though? He was a more welcome fit to the genre, with plenty of great material and charisma to last for days.
And I’ll admit, between his comments on “old farts and jackasses” from years ago and a surprisingly disappointing effort in 2017’s Texoma Shore, I had pretty much given up on getting that old Shelton back.
But then he changed course, recruiting veteran artists like John Anderson and the Bellamy Brothers for his latest tour as well as championing current country talent like Lauren Alaina. I still wasn’t quite sure if a radical departure was in place. After all, his newest single was called “God’s Country” and was written by Devin Dawson, another artist who’s hit or miss, and HARDY, the artist behind the awful “Rednecker.” But as always, a fair chance was in order.
Surprisingly enough, not only does “God’s Country” not suck, it’s a welcome return to form for Shelton. If anything, it manages to mark new sonic territory for him while planting itself firmly in country music. Color me surprised, but this is the first time in a long time where I can’t call a Shelton song bland.
What will catch people off guard right away is the song’s production and instrumentation. The song begins with minor, darker acoustic strums and clock-chime percussion to give off a hazier, darker atmosphere. By the time the chorus kicks in, the added reverb not only allows for a huge atmospheric presence, but between the hand-claps and stomping percussion, this song feels like a southern Gothic-meets-gospel song. This is a song meant to sound and feel huge, and it pulls it off incredibly well.
Now, the song itself does rely a little too much on rural pride pandering, lyrically, but there’s also some positive elements to it. Like the title says, this is God’s country, and the focus is more on a respect for the land around Shelton rather than trying to frame it as a city versus country debate. There’s certainly a slew of songs right now addressing authenticity concerns in the wrong way, and this track certainly isn’t without its unnecessary chest-pumping moments. But overall, it’s meant to be a declaration of respect for sanctity. Surprisingly enough, the religious iconography never feels forced or preachy, nor does it take away from what the song is going for.
“God’s Country” also tests Shelton’s upper range during the chorus, and once again, it’s pulled off surprisingly well. This is easily Shelton’s most passionate performance in a long time, if a tad overblown at points. But if he’s trying to convince me he’s a God-fearing man, he certainly succeeds.
Again, the lyricism is fairly novel and bland at points, and I wish we could have had a stronger gospel influence toward the end when the backup singers kick in. But overall, “God’s Country” is Shelton’s best single in years, pairing incredibly well-done production with a killer vocal performance. There’s something brewing in the mainstream country air recently with the genre’s return to its roots, and thankfully, Shelton now seems to be on the right side of the fight.