It may have taken a decade, but Blake Shelton says his ninth studio album is “maybe the first damn time I’ve made a record for the right reason.” And with If I’m Honest (out now), the country superstar, 39, delivers his most personal collection yet: Many tunes here address his divorce from Miranda Lambert, overcoming heartbreak, and finding love with Gwen Stefani, with whom he duets on “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.”
That duet, which the couple wrote together and performed Sunday night at the Billboard Music Awards, is one of the most striking moments on the collection—but was born via an email exchange between the two stars, says Shelton. “When it first started going there for she and I, when it was becoming more than just having someone to lean on because of what we had gone through together, there were issues,” he remembers.
“It was like, how am I going to trust somebody again? How am I going to let those walls down? We got to those answered through this song. I started writing this and sent it to her—and she sent right back her entire verse. Next thing you know we wrote this bridge and suddenly it was like, we’re not just communicating with each other, that’s a dang good song!”
The duet follows another minimalist hymn, “Savior’s Shadow,” which was released as an early single. “I still haven’t quite figured out what happened yet,” Shelton says of the writing process. “I woke up from a dream last spring and remembered that there was a song in my dream.” That’s happened plenty in the past, but usually, “I’m so lazy I haven’t written them down,” he says, with a laugh.
“But I dreamed the first verse and thought, ‘My God, that sounds pretty heavy. What am I singing about?” Shelton continues. “[And] when my personal life started to fall apart last summer, I would just walk around singing that verse. I started thinking, man, maybe this song is about how even God must feel sorry for me—even he would have said, ‘That guy makes me cry he’s so sad.'”
As things began to take a turn toward happier times Shelton’s perspective switched. “I realized it means he’s there with me. So I wrote the next verse of the song.” With two verses in hand, he enlisted the help of genre-mates Jessi Alexander and John Randall to help finish the tune. And while Shelton hasn’t set his sights on a gospel career, he felt he owed the song a chance with listeners. “For whatever reason, I was given that song and I thought I should use my platform to get it out. We decided to service it to all the stations and let it be up to them if they wanted to play it or not.”
And while that all makes for a highly personal album that lives up to it’s highly personal promise, sharing such intimate details doesn’t have Shelton sweating. “My life is out there anyway,” he says. “The only thing that makes me nervous is, does anybody give a s—?”