My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Toby Keith

Single Review: Toby Keith – ‘A Few More Cowboys’

a few more cowboysOne of Toby Keith’s biggest hits was the Western themed ‘Shouldve been A Cowboy’. His latest single revisits that territory, but using the metaphor to tackle some of today’s social issues.

Written by Keith with Bobby Pinson and Dean Dillon, the lyric is in the main a celebration of Texas and an idealized cowboy ethos, with some more questionable elements. Some of it is conventional and likeable enough:

There’d be a bunch more daddies sons could be proud of
We’d have half the crime, we’d have twice the fun
With a few more cowboys, be a lot less outlaws
With a few more amens, be a lot less bad calls
With a few more yes ma’ams and a lot less yes man
This world would be a better place to live in
With a few more cowboys

He strikes a chord with the current anti-politics mood by making jabs at professional politicians:

If the White House was in Texas, man, we’d get a straighter answer

Although I’m not sure his alternative of “more fist fights” is much of an improvement, it’s hardly a surprise coming from Toby. Naturally there’s a bit of trade protection and an allusion to beating the enemy, again archetypal Keith:

Met ’em at high noon, hell, it’s about high time
We looked ’em in the eye, got our head out of the sand
Hit ’em with a big John Wayne, by God they’d understand

Production is beefed up, but recognisably country; there is a prominent electric guitar but it is not too intrusive, and Keith’s robust vocals are solid (when he actually sings). It’s quite an enjoyable tune with a pleasant mid paced melody. The lyric video is quite good fun, especially the image which accompanies the fist fights line.
But there is one element to the lyric which is fundamentally misjudged, and as it comes in the second line, and is then repeated in as portentous drawl at the end of the song, it can’t be overlooked as a passing thought – it’s a central point of the song:

If they’d let us smoke what we want, we’d have a lot less cancer

Um, really? While I understand there are some trials using parts of the cannabis/marijuana plant, that’s a far cry from actually smoking it being beneficial. This isn’t the place for that debate; suffice it to say that it significantly mars the song for me.

Grade: B- (it would be B+ without the line I objected to)

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Retro Album Review: Danielle Peck

71PZ9Gm0f0L._SX522_Back in the days writing for The 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

I received Danielle Peck’s self-titled CD for Father’s Day. I was prepared to be disappointed but instead found myself really enjoying the CD. While Ms. Peck doesn’t have the greatest voice, it is sexy and assertive and she has it under full control (none of the “shrieking diva” approach too often found on CDs by today’s country females). The songs selected are very suitable to Ms.Peck’s voice, and very good lyrically. I say this because typically, most CDs have several songs that are out and out duds, but I liked all eleven songs on the CD.

The current song being pushed to radio is “Finding A Good Man” with “I Don’t” having also received airplay. Ms Peck has co-writer credits on several of the songs although not on the current hit.

“Kiss You On The Mouth” (a somewhat steamy ballad), “Honky-Tonk Time” and “A Woman Does Too” also would make good songs to promote to radio. The CD is a little heavy on ballads; one more uptempo number inserted near the end of the CD would have been good.

Apparently Big Machine Records is one of those independent labels associated with Toby Keith, but if so, he must be allowing the artists to have complete artistic independence as he wrote none of the songs on the CD and the disc doesn’t seem to have any of Toby’s touches to the production. Ms Peck does thank her manager, Barbara Orbison in the tray card notes – I assume this is Roy Orbison’s widow.

Anyway, I highly recommend this disc and look forward to her sophomore effort. If allowed fractional ratings I would give this album 4.5 stars

2016 comment – in retrospect I would NOT give this 4.5 stars, but would leave it at 4 stars.

Album Review: Toby Keith – ’35 MPH Town’

61O6h-fMNSL._SS280Although you won’t hear these songs on radio, Toby having committed the great sin of growing older (54) than the current target demographic of country radio, Toby has released his best album in many years.

35 MPH Town reflects the weltanschauung of a more mature artist. Although the drinking songs are still present, they do not dominate the album.

The opening track, and first song released as a single is “Drunk Americans” , the only song on that album that Toby didn’t write or co-write. While I don’t think it is a great song, had it come along a decade earlier, it would have been a top five single. Released in 2014, it reached #27 on the country airplay charts. The instrumentation has somewhat of a Cajun feel to it

We ain’t East, we ain’t West
We ain’t left, we ain’t right
We ain’t black, we ain’t white
We just came here to drink
We’re all mud flap suburbans
All ball caps and turbans
All prom queens and strippers
Where the whole kitchen sink and then here,
We’re the same, everyone knows your name

“Good Gets Here” is next and it is a typical Toby Keith country rocker, complete with machine gun lead guitar and some horn accompaniment. The song is about a man who knows he’s not top shelf but is still good enough that some woman will find him interesting.

The title track was the second single, a somewhat jaded look back at life in a small town and how it has degenerated. The song reached #42 on the country airplay charts but did not chart on the country sales charts:’

Oh we can’t blame the babies for growing up lazy
And crazy it ain’t them that let them down
If they ain’t stealing, they’re suing
Why work when we’ll give it to ‘em
It’s right there in the bible that we don’t put out
Spare the rod and you’ll sour
A thirty five mile an hour town

“Rum is the Reason” is a country song with steel drums present throughout, creating a song that sounds like Bertie Higgins or Jimmy Buffett might have sung it. The song postulates that alcohol was the reason leaders of the past (Davey Crockett, Pancho Villa, Stalin, Hitler and more) couldn’t hold power for long due to the alcohol. “Rum is the reason pirates never ruled the world,” indeed. This would have made a good single thirty years ago. Whether it would chart today is uncertain, but it is a good song.

“What She Left Behind” is a mid-tempo break up song about a relationship that suddenly fell apart. The narrator details the things, real and ephemeral, that she left behind to torment him with memories of the past. This is a very good song that I would like to see released as a single

“10 Foot Pole” is another song about the end of a relationship ending, but much less nostalgic than the previous song. The song is an upbeat rocker – “burning it up like Bonnie and Clyde …”

A well executed heartbreak ballad follows with “Haggard, Hank & Her.” The steel guitar of Russ Pahl shines throughout this slow ballad. The combination of alcohol , Haggard and Hank always serves as a catalyst for releasing emotions.

Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, “Sailboat for Sale” features Buffett in a duet with Keith. Jim Hoke’s accordion gently breezes through this song of how they got drunk and traded their fishing boat for a sailboat.

“Every Time I Drink I Fall in Love” is an upbeat country song about one-night stands and fair warning that he will indeed leave in the morning. It’s a song self-aware of its immature recklessness.

The final song is “Beautiful Stranger”, It is a sentimental ballad that was recently released as the third single and it really deserves to be a major hit. The theme is about a couple rekindling the passion. The tempo is slow with a heavy dose of acoustic guitar and violins. Far more mature than most of the offerings on county radio, the song is an appropriate close to the album and our spotlight on Toby Keith.

You give in and the night begins with the red wine kiss
I whisper something crazy about your shoes
You hush me and you crush me with your fingertips
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this side of you

Beautiful stranger In the candle light
God must have told you that I needed this tonight
I’ve longed for this feeling alone here in the dark
With a beautiful stranger in my arms

There a window moon and and old love tune playing soft and low
Takes me back, I’ve always loved that song
I pull you in and there’s comfort in the shape we make
Wrapped up in each other all night long

My only complaint about 35 MPH Town is that the album contains only ten songs. Good thing that all of the songs range from very good to excellent.

Toby Keith has had a substantial career that has not always been properly acknowledged, an after-effect of his dust up with the media darling Chixie Tricks (or whatever their name was). After only George Strait and possibly Alan Jackson, Toby Keith has been the most significant and most consistent country artist of the last twenty-five years. I haven’t liked everything he’s released, but I’ve liked almost everything, and given his prodigious output, that’s saying a lot. This album is worth an A as is his career.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith – ‘As Good As I Once Was’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Clancy’s Tavern’

71PR-1ECj3L._SX522_Over the past decade or so, Toby Keith has become somewhat overexposed, often making headlines for the wrong reasons, whether it was his feud with Natalie Maines, his dispute with ABC over performing “American Soldier” in its entirety or for confrontational song lyrics. I began to tune out around 2010, after the release of Bullets In The Gun, and as a result missed Clancy’s Tavern, one of his better efforts of recent years.

Catching up with this 2011 release now has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It is a firmly contemporary country project, but is rootsy enough not alienate most country fans, and it also lacks any awkward attempts to push the stylistic boundaries of the genre. That’s not to say that there aren’t any missteps; by Keith’s own admission, “Red Solo Cup” is the stupidest song he’s ever heard in his life (although he also labeled it “freakin’ awesome”). The Jim Beavers-Brett Beavers-Warren Brothers composition (the only song on the album that Keith had no hand in writing), is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a catchy ditty and is mildly amusing, but becomes less so with repeated listenings. Songs like this have their place as album cuts or concert staples, but they typically aren’t considered single-worthy material. Nevertheless, it landed at #9 on the country chart and #15 pop — his best showing on the Hot 100. It also sold more than 2 million copies, making it the most successful single of his career, from a commercial standpoint — further evidence that quality and commercial success are often two divergent forces.

Prior to “Red Solo Cup”, Toby scored his most recent #1 hit with “Made In America”, about a salt-of-the-earth couple from the heartland, who lament that their traditional values that are no longer in vogue. It’s not a bad song, although it lacks subtlety. It would have packed a greater punch a decade or so earlier, but by 2011 this particular theme had been overdone by Keith and others, and was wearing a little thin. “Beers Ago” a reminiscence of his teenage years written with Bobby Pinson, is my favorite of the album’s three singles. It peaked at #6 but was somewhat overshadowed by the success of “Red Solo Cup”.

“I Need to Hear a Country Song” cries out for a “three-chord, stone cold country song”, even though it sounds nothing like one itself. The upbeat “Trying to Fall In Love” is the album’s most country-sounding track, with plenty of fiddle. I’d have picked this one for a single instead of “Red Solo Cup”, although it probably wouldn’t have sold nearly as well. Also quite good is a the title track, a homage to a neighborhood watering hole and the men and women who work there. Like “Honkytonk U” a few years earlier, “Clancy’s Tavern” was inspired by the Arkansas tavern owned by Keith’s grandmother.

The standard release consists of eleven tracks, all of which can be enjoyed, though “Red Solo Cup” is the clear weakest link. The album’s deluxe version contains four bonus tracks, which were all recorded live in concert in New York City. None of them are particularly memorable, with the possible exception of Keith’s take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee”.

When all is said and done, diehard Toby Keith fans are going to enjoy this album, and those who dislike his politics and personality will try their best to hate it. And those who try to keep an open mind will find it to be an enjoyable, though not perfect, album.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘American Ride’

american rideToby’s 2009 release is another mixed bag. He was personally responsible for bad and good alike, as producer, label owner and writer of most of the songs. Many of the songs were written with Bobby Pinson, whose own singing career sadly never quite took off, but who has turned into a successful songwriter.

The title track, a shouty rant about modern life which is the only tune Keith did not write, was the lead single and hit #1.

The second single was a sharp contrast in almost every way. ‘Crying For Me (Wayman’s Song)’ was a tribute to a late friend of Keith’s, a jazz musician. Appropriately, it features the saxophone of Dave Koz and other jazz musicians. The song itself is a beautiful ballad about the sorrow of being left behind when a dear friend dies. It peaked at #6 on Billboard.

The third and last single was one of Toby’s typical semi-comic numbers, and was written with Bobby Pinson and John Waples. In the energetic ‘Every Dog Has Its Day’ a clumsy attempt at picking up a girl is knocked back (literally – she ends up punching him in the face):

Some drunk tried to punk me, and asked my baby “do you dance”
She said “Yes I do, but not with you”

The chorus wanders off into irrelevant list territory, but it’s quite an entertaining track although it peaked at just #15.

Pinson also co-wrote most of the other songs on the album. ‘Gypsy Driftin’’, a solid song about the call of music which reminds me of some of the material on Pinson’s underrated 2005 album Man Like Me:

I learned quick my eighteenth summer
Diggin’ ditches for the man
You can’t be a guitar strummer
Cussin’ that shovel in your hand

Took my paycheck to a pawn shop
Bought a Silvertone guitar
Wrote a song about a beer joint
Went and played it in a bar

It’s hard as hell out on this highway
But I’m still addicted to the show
When that crazy crowd calls out it keeps me
A gypsy driftin’ down the road

‘Are You Feelin’ Me’ is a passionate contemporary-styled ballad addressed to an ex, a little over produced, but a strong song. ‘Woke Up On My Own’ is a well written song about seeing the light, but grievously over produced with screaming electric guitars entirely unsuited to the song’s emotional message, and oversung to boot. Celebrating drunken behavior, ‘Loaded’ is, perhaps appropriately, an unsubtle noisy mess.

The aggressive approach and gospel style backing vocals do work on the moralistic ‘If You’re Trying You Ain’t’. ‘If I Had One’ is good humoured and enjoyable, with Toby admitting he would behave the same way he criticises in others if he had the chance. ‘You Can’t Read My Mind’ is about unspoken lust for his date; the protagonist is drunk but not too drunk to know it’s best to keep his mouth shut. The solo composition ‘Tender As I Wanna Be’ is an emotional love song with a string arrangement, which isn’t bad.

The album ends with the martial and semi-comic ‘Ballad Of Balad’, about a high school dropout who joins the army. It is a convincing portrayal which would go down well performed for a military audience, although some may find it a little too aggressive with its celebration of killing the enemy.

“You’ll meet lots of new friends and you’re sure to get paid
We’ll show you the world and we’ll teach you a trade
It’s not a job, it’s an adventure”,
Oh, yes sir, I got that
Ah, but you never told me I’d get my ass shot at

This was Toby’s last independent release before his Show Dog label took over Universal South. It’s not his best work, but has enough bright spots to make it worth checking out.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith – ‘I Love This Bar’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy’

ThatDontMakeMeaBadGuyThat Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy, released in 2008, was the second consecutive self-produced album from Toby Keith. It produced three singles, topped the country albums chart, and reached Gold status.

Keith was still a heavy-hitter at country radio when the album came out. The Bobby Pinson co-written power ballad “She Never Cried In Front of Me” was issued as the lead single. He’s attending his ex-girlfriend’s wedding, where he finally learns a bitter truth:

How was I supposed to know?

She was slowly letting go

If I was putting her through hell

Hell, I couldn’t tell

She could’ve given me a sign

And opened up my eyes

How was I supposed to see?

She never cried in front of me

The track went #1, and while very good, the choral arrangement is too bombastic. The excellent high energy “God Love Her,” another Pinson co-write that deservedly hit #1, came next. Keith assumes the role of the bad boy stealing the heart of the rebel child, a preacher’s daughter. It’s my favorite of Keith’s more recent singles. The unremarkable ballad “Lost You Anyway” peaked at #10.

Keith and Pinson co-wrote the majority of the album together, with mixed results. My favorite of their collaborations is the title track, a wonderful steel-drenched shuffle that should’ve replaced “Lost You Anyway” as the album’s third single. I also quite enjoyed “You Already Loved Me,” a ballad with a nice dose of banjo. Another ballad, “I Got it for you Girl” leans heavy on power, but keeps the suffocating clutter in check.

“Creole Woman” is pure dreck, an electric guitar drenched mess without much appeal. Even worse is “Time That It Would Take,” an aggressive rocker smothered in electric guitars. “Hurt A Lot Worse When You Go” isn’t terrible but it is a paint-by-the-numbers Keith ballad, a little bit loud with a strong vocal, but nothing he hadn’t already done with far more intriguing results.

“Missing Me Some You” is a bluesy ballad Keith wrote solely. It doesn’t do much for me, but he turns in an astonishing vocal that showcases his goods. I quite expected to hate the album’s final track, the Eddy Raven assisted “Cabo San Lucas.” It has the steel drums you would expect, but the song is a tender ballad and not the cheesy island-y affair you would think judging by the title.

That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy is a mixed bag at best, an album with two distinct personalities. Keith finds himself playing the game more often than not, which drags the project down. But he sprinkles in moments where he actually tries to up his standards and rise about the generic rockers he and label probably felt would appeal to the masses at the time. If he’d stuck in that vein, and offered the listener a few more surprises, this album would’ve been a slam-dunk.

Grade: B

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Big Dog Daddy’

big dog daddyBig Dog Daddy represents a new step in Toby Keith’s career, being the first of his albums that Toby produced entirely on his own. Released on Toby’s Show Dog Nashville label, in June 2007, the album debuted at #1 on both Billboard’s Country and Top 200 (all genres) chart; however, the album only reached Gold sales status whereas nine of his eleven previous albums went at least Platinum.

This album featured Carter’s Chord (sisters Becky, Emily and Joanna Robertson) doing the harmony vocals. Sonically it’s a nice album, but I don’t regard any of the songs on the album as being among Toby’s strongest efforts.

The album opens up with the first single, the #3 hit “High Maintenance Woman”. Written by Toby with Tim Wilson and Danny Simpson, the song is typical Toby fare

I see you laying by the poolside every day
She ain’t got a lot on
She ain’t got a lot to say
She wouldn’t look my way
But buddy what’d you expect?
I’m just the fix-it-up boy at the apartment complex
And she’ll go out dancing ’bout 7:15
Climb into the back of a long limousine
I know where she’s going
She’s going downtown
I’m going downtown too
And take a look around

She’s my baby doll
She’s my beauty queen
She’s my movie star
Best I ever seen
I ain’t hooked it up yet
But I’m trying as hard as I can
It’s just a high maintenance woman
Don’t want no maintenance man

The second track, “Love Me If You Can” was also the second single and it deservedly went to #1 . One of only two songs not written by Keith (Craig Wiseman and Chris Wallin wrote it) this tender ballad is the best song on the album.

Sometimes I think that war is necessary
Every night I pray for peace on Earth
I hand out my dollars to the homeless
But believe that every able soul should work

My father gave me my shotgun
That I’ll hand down to my son
Try to teach him everything it means

I’m a man of my convictions
Call me wrong, call me right
But I bring my better angels to every fight
You may not like where I’m going
But you sure know where I stand
Hate me if you want to
Love me if you can

Fred Eaglesmith penned “White Rose”, a song that rides the line between folk music and country music. I like the song and appreciate that Toby recognized the merits of the song which is nostalgic about such diverse elements as full service gas stations and teenage angst. I think this song should have been a single.

Yeah the whole town came out to watch
The day they paved the parking lot
Somebody hung a ribbon up and then they cut it out
And that big white rose up on that sign put innocence in all our lives
We could see it’s neon light half a mile down
Gas was 50 cents a gallon and they put it in for you
They bumped your tires then checked your oil and wash your windows too
And we shined those cars bright as bright we go park
Underneath that light staring at the prairie skies there was nothing else to do

Track four is the final single from the album, “Get My Drink On”. The song topped out at #11 and while it is an up-tempo and catchy song it is also silly and trivial. Toby co-wrote this song with Scotty Emerick and Dean Dillon. It is probably the most country sounding song on the album.

I

‘m gonna get my drink on, I wanna hear me a sad song.
My baby just left home, I didn’t treat her right.
Right here’s where I belong, I’m gonna stay ’till the money’s gone.
If it takes me all night long, I’m gonna get my drink on.

Well I got some little problems and the only way to solve ’em is the sure-fire way I know.
And when the going gets tough, well the tough get going to the little bar down the road.

Toby had a hand in writing the remaining tracks on the album. Toby’s “Big Dog Daddy” really rocks but it is rather generic. Still I could see releasing it as a single:

Hey Daddy!
Oh yeah
Well I’m a big dog daddy you know my face
And the joint starts rockin’ when I walk in the place
The band starts stompin those rhythm guitar
And the dance floor is jumpin’ through the back of the bar
Everybody looks better in the neon lights
When a plan comes together on a Saturday night

Yeah, the parking lot is packed and that’s a pretty good sign
I take it right in the back I don’t stand in line
The boys all lookin’ and a hittin’ the spot
Sayin’ the girls start shaking everything that they got
When a little cat momma gets ready to ride
I got Lincoln continental waitin’ right outside

The remaining tunes with writers in ( ) are:

“Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” (Keith, Emerick)
“I Know She Hung the Moon” (Keith, Emerick)
“Pump Jack” (Keith, Bobby Pinson)
“Burnin’ Moonlight” (Keith, Emerick, Dillon)
“Walk It Off” (Keith, Emerick)
“Hit It” (Keith, Wiseman)

I own most of Toby’s albums and this album is the one I pull out least. For some reason, this album feels like Toby was coasting a bit or perhaps distracted by the demands of establishing his record label. There are no duds but no real gems either, other than the two songs from outside writers. Toby is in good voice throughout. He would issue better albums and singles in the years to follow. As for this album, I’d give it a B.

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘White Trash With Money’

white trash with money2006’s White Trash With Money marked a departure for Keith, as it was the first release on his own Show Dog label. Another change involved recruiting the female singer songwriter Lari White as his co-producer; this was the first time a woman had ever produced a male artist in mainstream country music. The title, at once self-deprecating and proud, was inspired by an insult offered to his daughter Krystal by a wealthy friend’s snobbish mother. Happily, it also marks a step back from the over-reliance on pandering patriotic material.

As usual Keith wrote or co-wrote all the material, but this time he had only two collaborators: Scotty Emerick on most of the songs, and quite frequently Dean Dillon. This works well, with a good set of songs all fitting well together.

The lead single was the brassy working man’s ode to the weekend when he can ‘Get Drunk And Be Somebody’, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Follow-up ‘A Little Too Late reached #2. A ballad swathed with sweeping strings, it is a good song about the aftermath of a failed relationship.

The final single, ‘Crash Here Tonight’, peaked at #15. A sweet and tender ballad about being on the verge of falling in love with a friend and not wanting to scare her off, I like it a lot.

The ironic ‘Can’t Buy You Money’, which turns an old saw on its head, with money troubles not derailing the protagonist’s happy home life:

Yeah, we’d save it all up for a rainy day but it’s always sunny
Guess all the happiness in the world can’t buy you money

Now, I ain’t got no money, Lord
I’m knee deep in debt
We must be livin’ on love from above
We ain’t hit bottom yet

In the tongue-in-cheek ‘Grain Of Salt’ the protagonist defies a broken heart with the help of several tequilas, and seems to be too hungover to care when she comes back again:

I took your leavin’ with a grain of salt,
Tequila and a slice of lime,
Yeah the minute you left
Me and the boys went out and had a real good time,
It’s nice of you to check up on me,
Just to see how I was gettin’ along
But I’d already gotten over it baby,
Before you were even gone

By now you’ve observed
I was a little over-served last night,
I need to catch a few Z’s
Baby please
Turn off that bedroom light

The self-deprecating ‘Note To Self’ sees the collapse of a marriage thanks to bad decisions and things left undone. ‘Hell No’ is on similar lines:

Oh, she didn’t say no
But in her eyes I could see
Ah, this wouldn’t turn out to be
The fairytale ending I thought it might be
I sure found out
I got a long way to go
She didn’t say no
She said
“Hell no”

‘I Ain’t Already There’ is about a booty call which is part of a long term on-off relationship, and in which anticipation trumps the reality.

More seriously, the subdued ‘Too Far This Time’ is a downbeat ballad in which the protagonist faces the fact that his wife is cheating.

The somber ‘Ain’t No Right Way’ ponders moral choices: a teenage girl facing motherhood or giving up the baby for adoption, a father who beats his children in the name of discipline, and the controversy over prayer in schools. It’s a little muddled in places, with the three stories not quite hanging together with each other or the chorus, but the gentle melody and Toby’s obvious sincerity make it work.

The fluffy happy birthday wish of ‘Brand New Bow’ sounds like a personal gift for Toby’s wife, but has less resonance for other listeners.

This album is one of Keith’s more solid efforts. Almost every song would have been an effective single. It’s no real surprise that this was Toby at his commercial peak. Unfortunately, he can’t leave things there, and includes the gratuitously offensive ‘Runnin’ Block’, about a double date with a pair of overweight women. This aside, the album is recommended to all Toby Keith casual fans.

Grade: A

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Honkytonk University’

81C7OI6WDuL._SX522_2005’s Honkytonk University was Toby Keith’s last album for DreamWorks Nashville. It performed respectably, reaching platinum status, but sold considerably less than its two immediate predecessors’ 4 million units, possibly because the label was about to fold. It’s unfortunate because it is a much better — and certainly less confrontational — collection than either Shockin’ Y’all or Unleashed. Nevertheless, a million copies sold is hardly a failure and the album’s three singles all performed well at radio, with all of them reaching the Top 10.

The autobiographical “Honkytonk U” was the first track sent to radio. It recounts Toby’s summers at his grandmother’s supper club in Arkansas, his days of playing football, working in the oil industry, and his early days in Nashville. It deserved to rise a little higher than its peak of #8. The follow-up was the excellent “As Good As I Once Was”, with Toby playing the part of an aging but not quite ready to be put out to pasture good ol’ boy. A co-write with Scotty Emerick, it spent six weeks at #1, matching the success of “Beer For My Horses”. “Big Blue Note”, another Emerick co-write, was the album’s final single. It peaked at #5, and although I don’t actively dislike it, it’s never been one of my favorites. I much prefer the album’s other song that casts Toby in the role of abandoned spouse — the tongue-in-cheek “You Ain’t Leavin’ (Thank God Are Ya)”, which finds him glad to see the back of his departing wife. Dean Dillon shares the songwriting credit with Keith and Emerick on this one, as he does on the ballad “Knock Yourself Out”. Toby gets dumped again in “She Left Me”, another humorous number that states the obvious: “We’d still be together but she left me”. Once again he seems to be taking things in stride.

Honkytonk University is one of Keith’s more solid and consistent efforts; there are no bad tracks, and certainly no cringe-inducing moments like Shockin’ Y’all’s “Sweet”, but if pressed to name a highlight, the honor would go to the Merle Haggard duet “She Ain’t Hooked On Me No More”. It’s a pity it wasn’t released as the album’s fourth single. Perhaps it would have been had DreamWorks been in better financial shape at the time, but it remains a hidden gem in the Toby Keith discography. Lacking any obnoxious moments and more consistently country than some of Keith’s work, I highly recommend this album.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith and Willie Nelson – ‘Beer For My Horses’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Shockin’ Y’all’

61Jj7XLa1lLAlthough Shocking’ Y’all is widely considered an in-your-face follow-up to Unleashed, it is decidedly less aggressive than its predecessor. The by-now trademark Keith humor and bravado are there, but the album itself is one of his more disjointed efforts.

The album produced three #1 singles, beginning with “I Love This Bar”, a simple, catchy and non-controversial ode to Toby’s favorite watering hole, and ending with the relatively tame “Whiskey Girl”. In between was “American Soldier” which was derided by many critics and those against the Iraq war. It admittedly sounds like a public service announcement for the US Army, but in truth it is simply an expresssion of appreciation for our armed forces, before songs in this vein became a cliche. I have no reason to doubt its sincerity and now that there is some distance from the politics of the time, I hope that those who dismissed it may give it another chance.

The rest of the album is hit or miss. “If I Was Jesus” puts an interesting spin on some of the Bible’s better known moments, but the protagonist’s comparison of himself to the Son of God made me a bit uncomfortable. “Time For Me To Ride” and “Sweet” are over-the-top bombastic messes that have nothing to do with country music. “Don’t Leave, I Think I Love You” is quite good but sonically similar to “Who’s Your Daddy?”, which may be why the label passed on it as a single. I also enjoyed “Nights I Can’t Remember, Friends I Can’t Forget”. “The Critic”, Toby’s swipe at music critics, is an interesting creative stretch that makes the case that critics are mean-spirited, frustrated musicians trying to get some attention by tearing down big name stars. It’s meant to be humorous, but ultimately it doesn’t quite work. It has a “King of the Road” type beat, and in the hands of a Roger Miller, the results might have been quite different, but Toby Keith is no Roger Miller.

The album concludes with two stripped-down live-in-concert tracks, performed with Scotty Emerick, who co-wrote most of the album’s songs with Toby. Both are tongue-in-cheek, although there are definite political undertones in “The Taliban Song”, a number that the PC crowd would undoubtedly label as culturally insensitive. “Weed With Willie”, supposedly inspired by the songwriting sessions that produced “Beer For My Horses”, is a humorous reference to the Red Headed Stranger’s well-documented love for a certain herb.

Shockin’ Y’all is one of those albums that I’m tempted to recommend that folks just download a few selected tracks, but on balance the good songs outweigh the bad, so it probably makes sense to buy it in its entirety, though I’d definitely recommend skipping “Time For Me To Ride” and “Sweet”.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Willie Nelson ft Toby Keith – ‘Uncloudy Day’

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith – ‘I Wanna Talk About Me’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Unleashed’

KeithunleashedBy 2002, you couldn’t find a male country singer bigger than Toby Keith. He was routinely topping the charts turning over multi-week numbers ones with each radio offering. But it was also during this time he lead by his ego and lost of some of his better judgment. That fall made a mockery of himself with the Country Music Association, blasting them for making him the belle of the ball with a front row set and prime exposure, only to lose each of the six awards for which he was nominated.

Two of those nominations were for the lead single from his seventh album Unleashed. I first heard “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” when Keith debuted it in April at the CMT Flameworthy Awards (now the CMT Video Music Awards). When he got to the line, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” I was cheering. I really enjoyed the fire in that one line.

Thirteen years later, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” is nothing more than a bombastic document capturing an era in country music. The brash attitude of the track worked well with Keith’s persona, but caught the ire of Natalie Maines, who called the track ‘ignorant.’

I still can’t believe I ate up the second single, the horrible chart-topping “Who’s Your Daddy.” Keith’s ego exploded as he failed to mix humor, brash, and country-rock on a song that had very little redeeming value. Radio was surprising cool to “Rock You Baby,” a bland power ballad that was the only slower song released from Unleashed. Given Keith’s prominence at the time, I was very surprised when it stalled at #13.

The final single was the Willie Nelson duet “Beer For My Horses.” I quite like this song, although the production has worn thin through the years. The song is a battle cry for justice, detailing despicable actions that deserve repercussions:

Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news

Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused

Somebody blew up a building

Somebody stole a car

Somebody got away

Somebody didn’t get too far

 

We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds

We’ve got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets

It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground

Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down

“Beer For My Horses” went on to spend six weeks at number one, becoming Keith’s longest consecutive stay at the top. Nelson, who was 70 at the time, became the oldest male artist to score a chart topping single.

Keith had a hand in co-writing all twelve of the album’s songs, including two with long-time collaborator Chuck Cannon. “Good to Go to Mexico” is a catchy yet far too lightweight mariachi drenched number about making a permanent escape to paradise. They succeed on the splendidly sweet, “Huckleberry,” a plucky love song in the vein of Bryan White’s ‘Rebecca Lynn:’

Baby I’ll be your Huckleberry, you don’t have to double dare me

If the storm gets wild and scary count on me to be right there

You’re so extra ordinary sweet like maraschino cherries

We’ll grow up and we’ll get married

I’m gonna be your Huckleberry

Five more of the album’s tracks found Keith co-writing with his close friend Scotty Emerick. “It’s All Good” begins with poignant commentary, by ends up as an immature tale of two lovers. “Losing my Touch” is a nicely restrained ballad about the inability to shine in a relationship. “Ain’t It Just Like You” has a by-the-numbers lyric about the end of a relationship, but the melody is a bit too progressive for my liking. Even worse is “That’s Not How It is,” a slice of pure pop that goes nowhere melodically. Thankfully the pair wrote “It Works for Me,” a pure country shuffle about being with not having the newest or shiniest possessions. It’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.

The final song is the steel drenched waltz, “Rodeo Moon,” which Keith co-wrote with Chris LeDoux. It’s a great song (with beautiful harmonies by Lari White), in both Keith’s and LeDoux’s versions, but I feel like they need far more restrained vocal performances and a softer waltz melody.

I remember buying Unleashed the day it came out. I rushed to the store because I knew by the afternoon it would sell out. Looking back, I was a bit too eager to own what turns out to be a sonically disjointed album aimed at appealing to a wide array of country music fans. While most of the album is filler, I did enjoy “Huckleberry,” “It Works for Me” and the duet with Willie Nelson is a modern day classic.

Toby Keith is one of the most naturally talented country music vocalists of the past twenty or so years. More often then not, though, he fails to put his gifts to good use on quality material. There are a few notable tracks, but on the whole Unleashed just isn’t worth the effort.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith – ‘How Do You Like Me Now?’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Pull My Chain’

pull my chainFor the most part, Pull My Chain is a very upbeat album of fun songs, although some songs are a little light on substance.

The album opens up with “I’m Just Talking About Tonight”, a song Toby co-wrote with frequent collaborator Scotty Emerick. The song reached #1 the week of the infamous 9/11 incident and also reached #27 on Billboard’s pop chart. The song is about a no commitments barroom perhaps pickup:

Well, I’m not talkin’ ’bout lockin’ down forever, baby
That would be too demanding
I’m just talkin’ ’bout two lonely people
Who might reach a little understanding

I’m not talkin’ ’bout knockin’ out heaven
With whether we’re wrong or we’re right
I’m not talkin’ ’bout hookin’ up and hangin’ out
I’m just talkin’ ’bout tonight

You were sittin’ on your bar stool
And talkin’ to some fool who didn’t have a clue
I guess he couldn’t see you were lookin’ right at me
‘Cause I was lookin’ at you too

Then it’s, “Do you wanna dance, have we ever met”
You said, “Hold your horses boy, I ain’t that easy to get”

Next up is “I Wanna Talk About Me” about a guy, having been steamrolled in a relationship, finally insisting upon focusing the attention on his needs wants and desires. There was a terrific music video that accompanied the single, that shows a patient (and bored) Keith in a number of roles as a bored listener as the girl goes on and on about different things. The song was written by Bobby Braddock and sailed to #1 where it spent five weeks at #1 in late 2001.

Yeah yeah
That’s right
We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk
We talk about your church and your head when it hurts
We talk about the troubles you’ve been having with your brother
About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover
We talk about your friends and the places that you’ve been
We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin
The polish on your toes and the run in your hose
And God knows we’re gonna talk about your clothes
You know talking about you makes me smile
But every once in awhile

I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, you usually, but occasionally
I want to talk about me
I want to talk about me

“I Can’t Take You Anywhere”, another Keith-Emerick co-write follows the same beat, but isn’t singles quality material.

Next up is the slow ballad “You Leave Me Weak”, another Keith-Emerick co-write that was easily one of the best country love songs of the period. I don’t know if consideration was given to releasing this as a single, but it would have made a very good one.

I’m the one who gets that look in your eye
I’m the one who feels you tremble inside
I’m the one who steals those kisses from your breath
But sometimes it’s so good at night it scares me to death

Thinkin’ what would I do if I didn’t have you
I’m as strong, strong as I can be
Oooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

Put my hands upon your skin and it warms me to the touch
All that I can think about while we’re makin’ love
I’m the only one who knows how passionate you get
About all of our deepest little secrets that we’ve kept

As the night grows longer, girl you just get stronger
And you pour yourself all over me
Ooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

“Tryin’ To Matter”, yet another Keith-Emerick co-write is about trying to make a relationship work. It is a good song but it is nothing more than an album track.

“Pull My Chain”, with Toby co-wrote with Chuck Cannon is one of the highlights of the album, a funny and witty look at love. Although I think it could have made a decent single, there is a danger in releasing too many novelty songs as singles.

Got me on a short leash, tied to your screen door
I used to run with the big dogs ’til I stretched out on your front porch
I used to be a hound dog, chased a lot of fast cars
Now I don’t even bark when the kitty cats stroll through the back yard

I used to howl at the moon, yeah I’ve been known to roam
Then I caught her trail one day, followed this girl home
I ain’t the same, she knows how to pull my chain

“The Sha La La Song”, also a Keith-Cannon endeavor, is a good album track.

Do you remember, well I remember
Every kiss, bittersweet and tender
Every promise, every vow
Every time you said forever baby, even now
Even though you left me, for another
I’m a big boy, I will recover and

Sha la la la la la la la la la la la la
I’ll get over you
Sha la la la la la la la la la
Just one more lonely night or two

Dave Loggins wrote a number of classic songs during his career , but “Pick ‘Em Up and Lay ‘Em Down”, isn’t one of them although I can see it as a song that would clog the dance floors.

“Forever Hasn’t Got Here Yet” finds Keith co-writing with Jim Femino. The song sounds very ‘radio friendly’ but it wasn’t picked as a single.

“Yesterday’s Rain” is a very poignant song about how real love never fades away, even when your lover leaves you . The song was a Keith-Emerick co-write.

Somebody told you that my broken heart started mending
I’m getting by, but the truth is that I’m still standing
Knee deep in yesterday’s rain

Well, I ain’t high and dry, I ain’t got a big boat
But I got a new umbrella and an overcoat
And if the good Lord’s willin’ and the sun breaks through
That’ll be one more day, that I made it without you
That I made it without you

“My List”, written by Tim James and Rand Bishop, spent five weeks at #1 (and reached #26 pop), and is a reminder of how we often let important things get away from us in the hustle of everyday life and the importance of not letting that happen. The song came with a music video that was shot shortly after 9/11. News footage of the attack is shown at the beginning of the video as a married couple watch the news. The video ends by revealing that the husband in the video is a fireman, shown suiting up to go fight a fire. Toby appears in the video as a fire fighter. The song also was used in an episode of the television show Touched By An Angel.

“You Didn’t Have As Much To Lose” is another Keith-Cannon collaboration, this time an emotional ballad about a love gone wrong love-gone bad ballad. Not singles material but a nice album track.

The album closes with “Gimme 8 Seconds”. I am not sure that it would have been possible tor Toby to find a more famous co-writer to collaborate with than Bernie Taupin. Taupin has collaborated with Elton John on at least thirty albums and wrote or co-wrote many of Sir Elton’s most famous songs. “Gimme 8 Seconds” is more of a rock number than a county song but the subject matter – the eight seconds a bull rider needs to stay on the bull – is definitely a country topic.

Pull My Chain was released in August 2001 and kicked off a period (2001-2011) in which nine of his ten albums reached #1 (the other reaching #2) on Billboard’s Country Album charts, with four reaching #1 on the all genres album charts. Pull My Chain reached #9 on the all genres chart and sold double platinum. Bigger successes would follow.

I’d give this album a solid A.

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘How Do You Like Me Now?!’

how do you like me nowAs the millennium drew to a close, Toby Keith released the best album of his career on new label Dreamworks.

The lead single, ‘When Love Fades’ is a powerfully sung ballad written by Keith with Chuck Cannon. It’s not a bad song, but it failed to catch fire at radio and didn’t enter the top 40. Keith was understandably concerned by the poor start for his new deal, and asked for the single’s promotion to be pulled in favour of the title track. It was with this song (another Keith/Cannon effort) that Toby really found his voice. The vengeful ‘How Do You Like Me Now?!’ was perfect for Keith’s personality as he gleefully shows off his wealth and fame to the object of his unrequited affections in high school, who is now unhappily married. It was a career-making five-week chart topper, and while the protagonist’s motivation is immature, Toby Keith sells it completely.

Keith kept the tempo up with the horn-driven ‘Country Comes To Town’, which peaked at #4. I much prefer the final single, the tender ballad ‘You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This’, which captures the moment when a pair of “just friends” tentatively become something more:

You shouldn’t kiss me like this
Unless you mean it like that…

They’re all watching us now
They think we’re falling in love
They’ll never believe we’re just friends
When you kiss me like this
I think you mean it like that
If you do, baby, kiss me again

It reached #1 in March 2001, and it stands up well today.

Equally tender a performance, though not as memorable a song, is the sweet ‘Do I Know You (Bottom Of My Heart)’. ‘Heart To Heart (Stelen’s Song)’ is Keith’s real-life observation of his young son Stelen and his relationship with his wife Tricia, Stelen’s mother. (As a footnote the couple are still happily married and Stelen is in college.) ‘She Only Gets That Way With Me’, also probably about Tricia, was written by Toby with Scotty Emerick.

The breakup song ‘Blue Bedroom) was a co-write with Chuck Cannon, and is pretty good. More abstract is the macho philosophy of ‘Die With Your Boots On’, as voiced by a hard working truckdriving protagonist and his gambler father.

Toby wrote all but three of the songs. One of those outside numbers, ‘New Orleans’, is not only my favorite on the album, but probably my favorite Toby Keith cut ever. A compelling story song written by Mark D Sanders, Bob DiPiero and Steve Seskin, it relates the tale of a young woman fleeing something (or someone) in New Orleans, who finds a new life for herself in a random small town:

He was 25, she was 28
He was home grown country,
She just pulled off the interstate
She bought a Dr. Pepper, ten dollars worth of gas
She was obviously lost but too afraid to ask directions

So he offered her a smile and a stick of beechnut gum
Said “where you headed to girl, where you coming from?”
She said, “New Orleans
That’s another story
New Orleans
That’s another time
That’s another town
That’s another life”

First she stayed a day
Then she stayed a week
A couple of months later they were living on his parents’ street

Wednesday night supper at the First Baptist Church
Stranger standin’ in the doorway
As they’re passin’ out dessert
He said “Go and pack your bags
Cause I’m here to take you home
Goin’ back to Louisiana
Woman, I ain’t gonna go without you”

There’s a few defining moments in every person’s life
When you know what you’ve done wrong
And you know what you done right
Before the congregation
Her husband and her kids
She said, “How dare you even speak to me
After everything you did in New Orleans”

It’s effective partly because of what it doesn’t spell out; we never hear exactly what her ex did to her, or what happens next, although we can guess. Toby sings it with unusual restraint.

Not as intense, but still very good is the mid-tempo ‘I Know A Wall When I See One’, written by Jerry Salley and J B Rudd, about an encounter with an ex which brings back painful memories. The other outside song, ‘Hold You, Kiss You, Love You’ is a bit flat.

The production, courtesy of Toby and his new label boss James Stroud, is glossy and often hard driving contemporary fare which has dated a little but is effective enough. The material is generally strong, and overall this is my favorite Toby Keith album.

Grade: A

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Dream Walkin”

91o+pLohEcL._SL1416_After being bounced around between PolyGram Nashville’s various imprints, Toby Keith found himself back at his original label Mercury, for 1997’s Dream Walkin’, which also found him working with co-producer James Stroud for the first time. Stroud co-produced all of Toby’s albums through 2005 and was part of his big commercial breakthrough that would begin about a year later with “How Do You Like Me Now?” That in-your-face record marked a huge change of direction for Keith, so it is somewhat surprising to find that the first Keith-Stroud collaboration is such a tame affair.

There was little at this early date to suggest that the Keith-Stroud partnership would last for nearly a decade. In fact, for a while it looked like it might have been a big mistake. Dream Walkin’ was certified gold, achieving about half the sales level of Toby’s previous albums and it was his first album not to produce any number one hits. That being said, it did produce three Top 5 singles, while a fourth just made the Top 40.

The album is more pop/AC leaning than Keith’s earlier albums, so it was a bit of a creative stretch, with mixed results. The first single “We Were In Love”, which peaked at #2 is a bit too slickly produced for my liking, although Stroud and Keith managed to resist the urge to turn it into a bombastic mess as other artists and producers undoubtedly would have. British rocker Sting made his only entry on the country charts when he joined Toby for a remake of his hit “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”. It is like “We Were In Love” in two ways: it peaked at #2, and it’s not quite my cup of tea. I like the title track a lot better. “Dream Walkin'”, which peaked at #5 is probably my favorite of Toby’s early singles. Based on the title, “Double Wide Paradise” seems like something that Toby would record in the next stage of his career, but the song itself is terrible from both a lyrical and production standpoint. Radio apparently agreed; the record died at #40, making it Keith’s lowest charting single up to that time. I didn’t even realize that it had been a single.

Like the singles, the rest of the album is somewhat of a mixed bag. “You Don’t Anymore”, which Toby wrote with Eric Silver, is a decent ballad. I’d like to hear Toby re-do “Jacky Don Tucker (Play By The Rules Miss All The Fun)” and “She Ran Away with a Rodeo Clown” (also a Keith original); I suspect both would get a less restrained treatment today. The remaining album cuts are forgettable filler, with the exception of the closing track, the excellent “I Don’t Understand My Girlfriend”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The trademark Toby Keith humor and the western swing arrangement make it the album’s standout track.

Dream Walkin’ was the last album Toby released on Mercury. He and Stroud recorded one more album, “How Do You Like Me Now?”, which the label refused to release, prompting Keith to ask for a release from his contract. He purchased the rights to the album and released it on DreamWorks, where it was just the beginning of bigger and better things. Although not his best work, Dream Walkin’ can be obtained cheaply both on CD and as a digital download, and as such, is worth a listen.

Grade: B