Blake Shelton, “Texoma Shore”: Blake Shelton has won the hearts of millions of viewers on “The Voice,” as well as fellow coach Gwen Stefani, with his rough-around-the-edges country charm.
That charm is on full display on his new “Texoma Shore” (Warner Music Nashville) album, a departure from last year’s more introspective “If I’m Honest,” which became 2016’s top-selling country album.
The lead single “I’ll Name the Dogs” shows Shelton at the peak of his powers, as he delivers an endearing tale of building a life together through division of labor: “You name the babies, I’ll name the dogs.”
He continues this likable vein with “At the House,” where he outlines a dream staycation over a glossy country backdrop.
But there is a limit to how far Shelton can stretch his likability, and “Money,” where he tries his hand at rapping, is it — no matter how soothing he tries to make the chorus.
It’s a mess, but it’s also a sign of how confident he is in his career.
Only Shelton would try to go from “Money” to a throwback Ronnie Milsap-like ballad like “Turning Me On,” the only song on “Texoma Shore” that he co-wrote. And somehow, he makes it work.
Sam Smith, “The Thrill of It All”: Sam Smith is back with a sophomore album, “The Thrill of It All” (Capitol), filled with more tales of heartbreak and unrequited love. But unlike his stunning, chart-topping 2014 debut “In the Lonely Hour,” Smith now sings from a stronger, more confident position, which is reflected in the music.
The first single, “Too Good at Goodbyes,” reflects Smith’s growing confidence, though the result is still a doomed relationship. Nevertheless, the music shows what separates him from Adele and numerous other British soul singers. Though “Too Good at Goodbyes” is a ballad, Smith’s phrasing is faster and backed subtly by finger snaps that support the faster tempo.
For “The Thrill of It All,” the musical backdrop is far lusher than it was on his debut, though Smith’s voice is still distinctive enough and powerful enough to command the spotlight in every song.
“Pray” is the boldest example of his vocal strength, as he exquisitely draws out the notes of the chorus, extending them in a way that other singers would have done through technological tricks. Smith’s swooping vocal twists make his singing about deciding to pray seem even more poignant. “Him,” where Smith declares his love for another man and accepts the consequences, is his boldest lyrical statement, pointedly singing “Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us, it is him I love.”
Sometimes, Smith’s sadness becomes a bit overwhelming, but his voice remains a marvel, making “The Thrill of It All” an even more potent statement than his thrilling debut.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday