Song Review: Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins – “Hell Right”

Blake trace

The short version: Hell wrong.

  • Writers: Hardy, David Garcia, Brett Tyler
  • Rating: 2/10
  • Recommend? – Hell wrong.

The long version: This is one of those rare instances where I’m truly stumped on how to open this review.

Of course, by saying that, I’m admitting there’s a certain level of controversy surrounding the upcoming review, which isn’t exactly something I ever expected to say about Blake Shelton. Really, the bulk of his material in the 2010’s has been, or will be, largely forgotten by the end of the decade, and considering he doesn’t even care about making albums anymore, you have to wonder why he even calls himself an artist anymore.

But there was a glimmer of hope this year, also. “God’s Country” was not only a huge hit for Shelton, but also his first great song in nearly a decade, arguably.

And that’s what makes his new single, “Hell Right,” such a sad reminder of what could have been. Any goodwill Shelton amassed from “God’s Country” is long gone with this song, a shameless ode to debauchery that, in a just world, would make Ray Price rise from his grave to beat Shelton down one last time or make Willie Nelson embark on a second leg of his “Old Farts and Jackasses” tour.

I know, I’m falling for the bait set by Shelton to anger “purest” bloggers. Truthfully, anyone who lets themselves remember this song within a week, though, is letting Shelton win, who, for whatever reason, is trying to stir up unneeded controversy that will likely backfire on him in the long run.

And I’m just left wondering “why,” really, because it’s not like Shelton’s relevancy was in danger. Lo and behold, he actually put in more than the minimum amount of effort on “God’s Country” and reaped huge benefits from it. As for Adkins, well, let’s save him for the discussion of the song itself.

On that note, this is an absolute mess all around for all of the wrong reasons. We have two of country music’s most charismatic performers sharing the stage for a song where they have zero charisma, chemistry or ounce of good taste. There’s more production mishaps that I think I’ve ever heard on a country song before, and the writing isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

A fellow critic noted the similarities between this song and Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth,” namely in how both songs begin with odd cricket noises. It doesn’t fit either song, but at least they eventually went away on the latter track. Here, it’s one of many strange effects that lingers in the background for the entire duration of the song. As for why, your guess is as good as mine. Then again, if you don’t even notice it, it’s probably because this song also features clap percussion that’s, as always in mainstream country music, way too loud in the mix. And that’s before we address the swampy, dark, thick acoustic guitar line that sounds more jagged than it should be, coupled with a watered down electric guitar line to simply create a sea of noise on the chorus.

Really, it’s the same instrumental atmosphere that “God’s Country” went for, only this time around, “dark” and “foreboding” are the last adjectives you want to use for a generic party anthem. And that’s all the hook of “Hell Right” really leads up to – a statement to raise hell the right way if you’re going to raise hell at all. Again, there’s more interesting things to say about what “Hell Right” could mean more than what it actually does, another note on how this song is trying to draw faux controversy for … some unexplained reason.

Speaking of controversy, though, there’s one particular line here that everyone already knows about. Now, I’m not going to say whether the correct answer is “O-Town” or “Old Town,” in response to Shelton and Adkins praising the “small town girl” who took that band or song off to play Hank Williams Jr. However, it’s not exactly a good look either way. On one hand, they throw shade at a ‘90s pop band no one remembers anyway, and on the other hand, we open back up a can of worms that allows the media to have a feeding frenzy tearing down what it means to be a country music fan (and this time around, they’d actually have a good reason to do that).

The hypocrisy would also be rich in either circumstance, because for as bad as the lyrical content and production are, it’s the vocal performances and production that offer plenty to discuss and criticize. Shelton resorts back to his half-singing, half-rapping cadence from “Boys ‘Round Here” for the verses of this song, and like with the production, it just doesn’t work. This party anthem is about as generic as generic gets, but it never helps that it sounds like an ominous depiction of something out of Deliverance, nor does it help that Shelton delivers this song with the firepower of someone who just got out of bed.

And as for what Adkins brings to the table, again, your guess is as good as mine. The only meaningful contribution he makes to this song is questioning Shelton on what “hell right” even means, you know, like the rest of us did. Otherwise, there’s no camaraderie shared between the two, and aside from some faint, lingering support on backing vocals, Adkins may as well not be here at all. It also doesn’t help that Shelton has been lathered with the heaviest, most robotic vocal effects I’ve ever heard before, with the ode to the aforementioned Williams sounding especially bad, in this regard.

Despite this review running long, though, it’s best just to leave “Hell Right” to wither away into the dustbins of history and claim its rightful position as a hideous stain on Shelton’s career. To play along with the possible “Old Town Road” diss, though, it’s telling that Adkins is the equivalent of what Billy Ray Cyrus was to that song – someone doing the minimum amount of effort trying to salvage a dying dead career. And don’t forget that Hardy, the songwriter behind plenty of hits this year, (even “God’s Country”) is to blame for this. The same writer who helped pen the wistful ode to “pissing where he wants to” in his own song, “Rednecker,” helped to compose a song with an incredibly lazy hook and bad intentions all around. That’s where the real conversation is happening.

It’s songs like this that make me have to defend why I like country music to people who don’t understand it as anything more than a haven for “rednecks” and “hillbillies.” This song set that cause back further than I’d like to imagine.

(Light 2/10)

5 thoughts

  1. This song is awful! BS has a great voice but for some reason his song selection is horrible, maybe time to change producers? I wasn’t a fan of God’s Country b/c it sounded like a Trumper rally call song with a lot of its lyrics. Wish he would go back to the Honey Bee time.

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  2. I’m not sure if other opinions are welcome here but I really don’t understand why everyone jumps on Blake all the time. It’s a party song. A buddy song. Not everything has to be so high brow. He has always made the kind of music he likes to listen to. This guy gives millions to charities, does benefit concerts right and left, was asked by the Obamas to perform at their final state dinner, and, wasn’t afraid to show up, perform, take pictures with them (you know most country stars wouldn’t, hell, his ex wife wouldn’t even be seen with her own gay brother until a few weeks ago after Kacey Musgraves chances her career to finally make pride acceptable). My point is, here’s this guy who does the things he likes, isn’t hurting anyone, doesn’t dress the star part or dye his hair, doesn’t release things to pander to awards committees, and isn’t much of anything but nice to everyone (Blake quote.. I love everyone, I don’t have time to hate) yet, everyone hates on him for these good. qualities relentlessly. Yet, the ex wife I previously mentioned can release country pop single after country pop single, copy everyone else’s style and aesthetic, portray herself as the opposite of what she actually is, and it’s either crickets or everyone praises her. This is problem I have with country music right now. It’s all about being perceived as being authentic instead of actually being authentic.

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    1. Other opinions are always welcome here. But “Hell Right” simply being a “buddy” song doesn’t excuse it from criticism. Like I said in my review, this is a party song that feels more lethargic than raucous. And I also said Blake is one of country music’s most charismatic performers, so it’s disappointing to hear him turn in a half-baked performance.

      Otherwise … look, you’re insinuating that I’m shitting on Blake as a person, which isn’t true. I run a music review website, so I care about critiquing the music at hand, not the person behind it. With that said, good people can still make bad music, and bad people can still make good music, so while those qualities you mentioned are admirable, they have nothing to do with “Hell Right,” which is the focus of the piece.

      And for the love of God, don’t turn this into a Blake versus Miranda battle. This isn’t 2015, dude.

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  3. I appreciate your response and the points you make. I want to clarify that the ex comments are because she just happens to be the antithesis of authentic and it bugs me to no end that she’s glorified. Never have been a fan of her music or personality or a huge fan of this era of Blake’s music either, although his last Texoma Shore album was a nice departure. I don’t love this song but it’s a song you put on in the background of boating trip or cookout. It’s certainly more fun than Drunk on a Plane or that Chris Janson boat song. The bigger issue to me is that people are so afraid to be perceived as uncool in the cool kid country music crowd that they are afraid to take chances anymore. Every great song takes a musical chance. Authentic country songs these days are fine, but somewhat banal. There are exceptions like turnpike troubadours and the highwomen and Kacey Musgraves (who probably isn’t acceptable by cool kid standards since she includes techno beats here and there). I may not love or even much like this song but Blake is willing to sacrifice awards and the taunts of musical snobs to have some fun and take some chances and I feel we need more of that attitude, not less. Thanks for letting me rant and for being fair.

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    1. Sorry for the late reply, Luke. But thank you for the kind discourse. I’d argue that Blake took a bigger and better chance with “God’s Country” over this, but that boils down to personal taste, ultimately. Also, don’t know if you find this website through this review, but I’m usually not this negative. With that said, I’m not writing because I think some special taste in music, I do it to hear from others. So thanks for your perspective.

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