My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Bullets In The Gun’

Toby Keith is one of the most prolific major label artists these days, consistently releasing an album a year, and writing most if not all of the material himself. He also produces his work, and now co-owns the label, so if anything is not quite up to par there is absolutely no one to blame but Toby himself. Bullets In The Gun is, on the whole, his strongest release for some time, but with no really outstanding moments and one major weak spot. Toby deserves credit for his production work, as the sound of the album is generally restrained with some variation in textures which keeps the interest even where the songs are not that interesting.

The title track, Toby’s latest single, is a gripping if somewhat derivative story song (written with Rivers Rutherford) with a drawled delivery about a drifter who hooks up with a bar dancer who leads him into a career of crime and bloody end. It is one of my favorite tracks here. Former single ‘Trailerhood’ is a nicely detailed and good-humored ode to a working class backwoods neighbourhood which paints a convincing picture, and has an engagingly bouncy tune and production, although it did less well on radio than usual, just scraping into the top 20.

‘Think About You All Of The Time’ is catchy but rather fluffily written about being hung up over an ex. I could see this as a future single. Toby teamed up with old friend Scotty Emerick and the great Dean Dillon to write the rather good ‘Is That All You Got’, a stoic demand of the woman who has left him, with just a hint of a wistful subtext.

The similarly themed ‘Ain’t Breakin’ Nothing’ paints an interesting picture of a man who readily confesses to being his “own worst enemy”. He combines defiance in the face of the inevitable breakup with proffering a kind of consolation to the woman leaving him:

You ain’t breakin’ nothin’ that ain’t already broke

This is one of no less than six songs here which Toby co-wrote with Bobby Pinson, who had a short-lived attempt at a solo career in the middle of the last decade. I loved Bobby’s debut album, and it would be good to see his work with Toby leading to another shot for him as an artist with Show Dog Universal, although his songs here are not his best work. The best of these collaborations (and one of the highlights of the album) is ‘In A Couple Of Days’, a plaintive and somewhat wry response to the woman who has just left him reeling from the shock of her departure and uncertain as to his feelings and now wants to know how he feels. I really like this one.

On the same theme is ‘Somewhere Else’, an pleasant if unexceptional mid-paced number about killing time in bars after an ex has walked out. ‘Drive It On Home’ is a fast paced and cheery trucking song with almost no tune. ‘Kissin’ In The Rain’ is an atmospheric slice of nostalgia about thwarted teenage romance between a rebellious daughter and a working class boy, but lacks much melody.

Pinson also co-wrote the worst song here, the banjo-led ‘Get Out Of My Car’, a crude demand for (immediate) sex from a date which is astonishingly crass even from Toby Keith. The only redeeming feature of this (apart from the playful banjo high in the mix) is that he gets turned down, which leads me to believe that the writers did not actually intend this to be quite as offensive as it is to a female listener (at least to me), and were merely monumentally clueless. Indeed, I’m pretty sure it was intended to be funny. It isn’t.

The unpleasant aftertaste is cleansed by the deluxe version of the album’s selection of four live covers as bonus tracks, although none of them is really essential listening. A shouted bluesy version of Johnny Paycheck’s ’29 Months and 29 Days’ lacks the intensity and conviction of the original. Waylon’s ‘Waynore’s Blues’ (given the wrong title on the cover) and Roger Miller’s ‘Chug A Lug’ work better for Toby, but the highlight is his version of the gorgeous ‘Sundown’, a top 20 country hit for Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot in the 70s, which would be hard to sing badly.

Grade: B-

Our friends at Country Universe are giving away an autographed copy this week.

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13 responses to “Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Bullets In The Gun’

  1. Ben Foster October 14, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I wasn’t a very big fan of “Get Out of My Car” either, though I did lighten up a bit at the ending. That song just goes too deep into TMI-territory for my taste. I guess you just have to be the kind of Toby fan who shares his sense of humor. I can definitely see how a female fan in particular might find it offensive.

    Probably my favorite tracks on this album were “Somewhere Else” (mostly because of the catchy melody and tempo) and “Kissin’ In the Rain,” though I can’t call either one particularly exceptional.

    I wasn’t terribly impressed with this album as a whole, but most of it was at least mildly entertaining.

  2. Leeann October 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I think this is sonically steps above for Toby.

  3. pwdennis October 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I regard this as a step up from Toby’s recent efforts. One thing I do like about Toby is that he doesn’t worry himself much about political correctness and who might feign hurt feelings. Too much of today’s music is too mannered for my taste. “Get Out of My Car” isn’t a great song, but those who take offense from it (particularly without listening to the entire lyric) , need to obtain a skin-thickening agent and quickly

    The title track is a song that grows on you with repeated exposure – I’d give it a B or B+

  4. Leeann October 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I’m not surprise that “Get Out of My Car” turns people off, but I think it’s pretty humorous. The fact that he doesn’t get the girl in the end and the corny chorus line echo makes it a song that I don’t take seriously. I tend to like Toby’s crass sense of humor though; “I Wanna Talk About Me”, “Getchya Some”, “Big Blue Note”, “Trailerhood” and even “Running Block” amuse me. I think he sings a mean ballad, but I like it when he doesn’t take himself too seriously the most. I think that’s what I’m enjoying about this album.

    • Occasional Hope October 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      I hate Running Block; the others are okay, though. I do like the ending of get Out Of My Car, but it’s too offputting getting there for me.

  5. Ken Johnson October 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I have seen several reviews of the live bonus tracks for this album and all (including this one) refer to “I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving (But I’ll Be A Long Time Gone)” as a Waylon Jennings song. Waylon did record the song as a track for his 1975 “Dreaming My Dreams” album. However I’ve always associated that song with it’s writer Roger Miller. Roger’s recording peaked at #13 in Billboard in mid-April 1966 as the “flip” side to his top five single “Husbands And Wives.” No question that Waylon did a fine job with his rendition but Roger had the much better known single hit.

    “Sundown” was Gordon Lightfoot’s most successful country single and his only #1 pop hit. A #13 country chart hit, ‘Sundown” also topped the Billboard Hot 100 survey during the final week of June 1974. Seems like it would be a great remake candidate for a country single release by the right artist.

    • Occasional Hope October 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      Sundown is a lovely song. Deryl Dodd had a version of it about ten years ago, which I believe was a single but an un successful one.

  6. Leeann October 14, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I’m confused, isn’t the Jennings song that Toby covers “Waymore’s Blues”?

    • Occasional Hope October 14, 2010 at 5:32 pm

      Ouch – just checked and you’re right. It’s misascribed and it just skated past me every time I was listening. I will correct immediately.

  7. Leeann October 14, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Sorry, I meant to say that it’s mislabeled on my digital copy too, and this actually isn’t the first review to overlook the discrepancy.

    • Occasional Hope October 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm

      Still embarrassing ;)

    • idlewildsouth October 14, 2010 at 10:34 pm

      Yea. I noticed when I bought it and listened. I honestly had to listen to it over and over, both “Been A Long Time Leavin'” and “Waymores Blues” because I couldn’t believe something like that slipped through the cracks.

  8. Pingback: Some hidden treasures of 2010 « My Kind Of Country

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