Song Review: Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name The Dogs”

Well, well…the traditional country sound has gone so mainstream that even Mr. Play-It-Safe himself is ready to (carefully) jump on board.

Shelton’s musical output has gotten less and less interesting as his career has progressed, with his unorthodox-but-memorable material like “Ol’ Red” and “Some Beach” getting pushed aside in favor of forgettable-but-high-charting tunes like “Sangria,” “Gonna,” and “A Guy With A Girl.” His last single “Every Time I Hear That Song” was a very small step out of his boring comfort zone, but he quickly retreated back into his bubble for the leadoff single for his next album, the ready-made wedding song “I’ll Name The Dogs.” Thankfully, however, the definition of what is “safe” in country music has shifted in the last year or so, and the result is a song that sounds better than anything from his If I’m Honest album.

Neotraditional production is back is fashion in country music, and Shelton (mostly) embraces it wholeheartedly on this track. The melody is carried primarily by an acoustic guitar, with a restrained electric guitar, steel guitar, and even a fiddle (gasp!) also featured prominently in the mix. (The Paisley-esque guitar solo delivered by Diamond Rio’s Jimmy Olander is a nice touch.) Yes, the song uses a drum machine for no apparent reason (it’s quiet and doesn’t get in the way, but it’s quickly drowned out by real drums and doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose), and yes, the “ahh-oh-wahhs” that open the song and pop up intermittently are more annoying than anything else, but even with these issues, the song has a warm, organic feel that surpasses most everything else on the radio right now, and it fits the subject matter perfectly. Call it safe, call it retro, call it whatever you want, but I’d call it pretty good.

The song’s safety lies mostly in the writing, as “let’s be together forever” wedding songs are a dime a dozen. It’s hard to stand out in a field with so many heavyweights (George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart,” Randy Travis’s “Forever And Ever, Amen,” and Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On,” just to name a few), but “I’ll Name The Dogs” makes a concerted effort to stand through its unique imagery: picking out paint colors, hanging pictures, and of course, naming the dogs. (However, the phrase “Still lovin’ on you when the rooster crows/Watching way more than the garden grow” is juvenile innuendo that feels out of place amongst the other more-mature activities.) For the most part, though, the song sticks the classical, overdone romantic themes, and thus require a strong delivery from the performer to make them stand out.

Thankfully, Shelton’s five CMA Vocalist of the Year awards weren’t completely undeserved, and he provides an earnest, emotional delivery to provide the weight the writing requires. The song isn’t very taxing technically (neither Shelton’s range nor his flow are tested much here), but the nature of the subject matter requires an honest, believable performance from the singer to properly sell the song. Shelton is up to the challenge, however, as the narrator’s direct-yet-heartfelt tone dovetails neatly with Shelton’s public persona, and he is able to deliver the tune with the proper tone and reverence. (His budding romance with fellow singer Gwen Stefani only adds to the believability quotient.) In truth, Shelton is the perfect person at the perfect time to perform a song like this, and he nails it.

Overall, “I’ll Name The Dogs” is still a safe song, but it’s also a good song that features excellent production, a well-executed delivery, and suitably-sappy lyrics that are occasionally unique. Perhaps we’ve found the secret to success with Blake Shelton: Rather than move him out of his comfort zone, just move the entire comfort zone to a suitable spot within the genre, and let him do his thing.

Rating: 7/10. If this is setting the sonic and thematic tone for Shelton’s next album, then consider me intrigued.

3 thoughts on “Song Review: Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name The Dogs”

  1. Great review, except for the fact that you seem to have thoroughly misinterpreted the meaning of “watching way more than the garden grow.” There is no “juvenile innuendo” there; he’s talking about watching their children grow up, which is very on par with the other sentiments he expresses in the lyrics. Someone’s mind is in the gutter… lol

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    1. I stand by my interpretation, as the preceding line “Still lovin’ on you when the rooster crows” sets an explicitly sexual context for the “garden grow” line. To me, they sound like they’re making children, not watching them.

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      1. Even if “still lovin’ on you when the rooster crows” has a sexual connotation, I don’t think the following line does. I think he’s talking about making children and then talking about raising them. But I apologize for making it sound like your interpretation was wrong; obviously it’s just a matter of personal opinion. 🙂

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