It's hard to believe that Morning Glory Ramblers is the first full-length recording by Norman and Nancy Blake in eight years. Certainly they've been active, from playing on all 47 Down From the Mountain dates, performing on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain soundtracks, June Carter Cash's final album, Wildwood Flower, and various other projects. This album, recorded on the soundstage of the Western Jubilee Warehouse in Colorado Springs, is a dynamite setting for the material found here. There are 17 songs in this collection, seven of them traditional melodies, still others so old they've seldom been heard over the last century, a Hank Williams' tune, and a couple by friends of Norman and Nancy's that are so saturated in the deep country, they could have been written decades before.
Blake Shelton veered toward the somnolent on the quite pleasing Bringing Back the Sunshine so it's not entirely surprising its 2016 sequel, If I'm Honest, is a bit crisper and livelier. Some of this brightening in attitude may be due to him lightening his load following a much-publicized 2015 divorce from singer Miranda Lambert – certainly the title suggests it's time for the singer to get down to what's real – but the electronic sheen and good times also feel like a reaction to Shelton sliding too deeply into softness. If If I'm Honest is indeed a divorce album, it's a Back in the High Life, not a Blood on the Tracks: Shelton is seizing the day, embracing his new lease on life with renewed vigor and a new love, who just happens to stop by to sing "Go Ahead and Break My Heart." Gwen Stefani's presence offers a reminder that Shelton stars on the televised singing competition The Voice, and If I'm Honest is targeted more at the mainstream audience attracted by the show than country radio proper.