In a bumper crop of male country artists that emerged last year, Blake Shelton heads into his sophomore record with as much momentum as anybody in the genre.

In a bumper crop of male country artists that emerged last year, Blake Shelton heads into his sophomore record with as much momentum as anybody in the genre. The scruffy Okie has some chops, for sure; the muscular "Heavy Liftin' " conjures a swampy braggadocio, and on the other end of spectrum, "The Baby" is an endearing macho tearjerker rendered with impressive passion. Likewise, the Shelton-penned title cut is both atmospheric and original melodically. There are some missteps: "Asphalt Cowboy," for example, harbors contemporary production elements that don't mesh particularly well with steel guitar. But the highlights are winning, including the kickin' "My Neck of the Woods" and a confident, rowdy "Playboys of the Southwestern World" that playfully borrows from (of all people) Van Morrison. Broader than its predecessor, The Dreamer shows growth, confidence, and multiple singles, as well as an artist that appears to have some serious staying power.—RW