by MIKE CHAIKEN
One of the bonuses of being a music critic is that you get a chance to discover new music.
I’m not just talking about discovering an opening act just waiting to break it big on the charts.
I’m talking about, if you play your cards right and keep an open mind to genres outside your preferences or comfort zone, finding big name artists who you might have ignored because they typically were “just not my kind of music.”
This was the case Friday, March 22 when I traveled down to the Mohegan Sun Arena for Blake Shelton, who was on his Friends and Heroes Tour.
Like most Americans, I was aware of Shelton. His stint as one of the judges on the singing reality competition series “The Voice” has enshrined him in the pop culture consciousness. And his romance with pop singer Gwen Stefani has entrenched him in the gossip columns.
But my musical IQ with Shelton was relegated to his early single “Austin.” Apparently, I was also familiar with his single, “Home” (originally performed by Michael Buble).
Mostly, I was flying blind heading into the arena.
But my blindfold slowly evaporated as I found pleasantly surprised by how much liked what I was hearing.
The songs were catchy. The stories within the words were sometimes touching, sometimes inspiring, sometimes earthy, and sometimes humorous.
Shelton offered a set list of songs that soared over country’s stereotype as corn poke tunes. Shelton also showed the musicality of country, demonstrating a melodic and strong voice (after all, he’s a judge on “The Voice”). And his band was full of crackling energy that drove the songs into my brain.
Shelton took me on a musical journey, and I found myself eagerly following his lantern as he showed me the way.
Another aspect of the show I enjoyed was the way Shelton shaped the show to acknowledge his musical “Heroes and Friends.”
Shelton’s tour this time finds himself bringing along country artists John Anderson, the Bellamy Brothers, and Trace Adkins.
Again, all of those artists were familiar to me. I knew the Bellamys’ 1970s hit, “Let Your Love Flow.” I also remember Adkins’ “Badonkadonk.” However, Anderson was a complete mystery to me except for spying his records in the racks of a record store. (Remember those?)
Shelton was using his popularity to acknowledge the artists who paved the way for his success.
Admirable as it was, the effort also was educational and enlightening – not only for me but I’m going to guess for “The Voice”-loving audience.
I walked away from the show wanting to hear more from these artists, which I’m sure was Shelton’s goal.
And once the show was done, I also wanted to hear more from Shelton’s music.
Opening for Shelton was young artist Lauren Alaina. Introduced to the world on “American Idol,” Alaina offered up a high energy set. Her songs offered stories that would be familiar to her peers and elicited nostalgia for younger days from the older set in the audience.
Again, Alaina made me want to hear more from her. And the musical samples of her upcoming album has prodded me to add the effort to my iPhone wish list.
I went into the Blake Shelton show willing to give his music a try. And the effort paid off like the slot machines outside in the casino. I not only learned I like Shelton, I picked up Anderson, the Bellamy Brothers, Adkins, and Alaina as new favorite artists.
I give the Blake Shelton “Heroes and Friends” show at the Mohegan Sun Arena on March 22 four out of four stars.