My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Toby Keith

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

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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

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith and Sting – ‘I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Blue Moon’

TobyKeithBlueMoonThe shuffling of Toby Keith from label to label (all were a subsidiary of Mercury Nashville) had reached its apex by the time Blue Moon, his third album, was released in 1996. Keith was now the flagship artist on the Music City division of A&M, a label originally started in the early 1960s in California. In the process, Harold Shedd was dropped as Keith’s producer. Keith would step up and co-produce the album with Nelson Larkin, who had assisted Shedd on Keith’s previous records.

After he took complete control of his career in the 2000s, Keith reminisced about his 1990s work saying he was known as the ballad singer in his early years. Keith certainly has the voice for such material and from a singles standpoint, Blue Moon delivered. He solely penned the album’s lead single, the title track, which found him at his most tender. The AC-leaning lament, about a guy taking responsibility for his role in ending his relationship, peaked at #2.

The second single was the cinematic “A Woman’s Touch,” which Keith composed with Wayne Perry. The track opens with sweeping guitars and cymbals that nicely give way to more of a typical Keith arrangement. “A Woman’s Touch,” which peaked just outside the top 5, is a very good song although not strong enough to be much remembered today.

The album’s final single (and Keith’s third #1) is probably the greatest use of clever wordplay in a country love song I’ve ever heard. “Me Too,” which Keith co-wrote with frequent collaborator Chuck Cannon, finds him stepping into the shoes of a man who has difficulty saying ‘I love you:’

Oh, I’m just a man, that’s the way I was made

I’m not too good at sayin’ what you need me to say

It’s always right there on the tip of my tongue

It might go unsaid, but it won’t go undone

So when those three little words come so easy to you

I hope you know what I mean when I say, me too

Keith had a hand in writing all but one of the album’s remaining seven tracks, including two with Perry. “She’s Perfect” is a similarly styled ballad and another tune in which Keith admits he’s at fault for the state of his relationship:

There’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

She’s as pure as she can be

She’d never say, but the only mistake she ever made was me

It might appear to you she’s broken

By the teardrops in her eyes

But there’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

I’m the one who made her cry

Another such ballad is “The Lonely,” the Cannon and Lari White co-write Keith didn’t help compose. The track isn’t terrible, but it isn’t memorable either. “Every Night,” a semi-uptempo, finds Keith helping his woman through the heartbreak wrought from her previous relationship. “She’s Gonna Get It,” the other co-write with Perry, is faux uptempo encumbered by a clumsy lyric. “Lucky Me” is an above average rocker about a man reveling in the emptiness in his home in the wake of a breakup. While the premise shows promise, Keith should’ve gone further with the lyric and provided some kind of interesting twist or clever ending. “Hello,” which finds Keith in Mexico, closes Blue Moon with pure dreck.

“Closin’ Time At Home” may suffer from a suffocating and uninteresting arrangement, but it should’ve been a single. Keith is a man in San Bernardino thinking about the woman he left back home in Tulsa:

If it’s midnight in California, must be closin’ time in Oklahoma

I know that she’s already danced another night away

And these west coast nights sure seem colder

Knowin’ somebody else’s arms will hold her

Midnight in California means it’s closin’ time at home

Blue Moon finds Keith in a holding pattern. The three singles are excellent and kept him within country radio’s good graces. But the album presents a subdued and average Keith not taking any chances either lyrically or sonically. The guy who brought us the memorable run of iconic 1990s fare on his first two studio sets was gone and we still had another three years before he became the artist who took the bull by its horns. This Keith feels like a timid people-pleaser.

Blue Moon is the weakest of his Mercury/Polydor/Polygram/A&M recordings. Its no wonder he unapologetically tore down the walls and rebuilt the house. If he’d stayed in this vein, he would’ve been just another 1990s has-been. Toby Keith is too good for material like what he co-wrote, co-produced and recorded here.

Grade: B

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Boomtown’

41SMJD8V6ALReleased in 1994, Boomtown was Toby Keith’s second album, and probably my favorite album of his early years. It was Toby’s first album to reach the top ten of Billboard’s Country Album chart and the top fifty of Billboard’s All-Genres Album chart

“Who’s That Man” was the first single released from the album and the second #1 single for Keith reaching the top on both the US and Canadian country charts. The song is a serious ballad about the life the narrator left behind when he and his wife separated. The topic has been tackled many times both in literature and music but rarely as succinctly

They paved the road through the neighborhood
I guess the county finally fixed good
It was gettin’ rough
Someone finally complained enough

Fight the tears back with a smile
Stop and look for a little while
Oh it’s plain to see
The only thing missing is me

That’s my house & that’s my car
That’s my dog in my back yard
There’s the window to the room
Where she lays her pretty head
I planted that tree out by the fence
Not long after we moved in
That’s my kids and that’s my wife
Whose that man, runnin’ my life

“Big Ol’ Truck” was the fourth and least successful single from the album, reaching #15. The song is a generic mid-tempo rocker. It is not bad but not great either.

“Victoria’s Secret” is a gentle ballad that is far more than the clever word play title would suggest. I think this would have made a good single: 

Her husband’s always working and he’s never home
When he’s there with her he’s still gone
And she can’t stand living and loving alone
Well she’s got her children to raise, that’s why she can’t let it show
I’m the only one who knows Victoria’s secret

The first three songs were Toby Keith compositions. “No Honor Among Thieves” is outside material from the pens of Nathan Crow and David Wills. Up-tempo and bluesy, the song makes a nice album track.

“Upstairs, Downtowns” was the second single of the album, reaching #10. The song is the story of a young girl leaving home to discover the world. The song was a Toby Keith-Carl Goff Jr. collaboration as was the album’s third single, the wry “You Ain’t Much Fun (Since I Stopped Drinkin’)” . I feel that this was the first Toby Keith single in which Toby’s sense of humor truly manifested itself. I was somewhat stunned when this song didn’t make it to #1 (it reached #2). It is hard for me to pick an all-time favorite Toby Keith song, but this one, with its infectious chorus and shuffle beat, is a strong contender:

I used to come home late and not a minute too soon
Barking like a dog, howling at the moon
You’d be mad as an ol’ wet hen, up all night wonderin’ where I been
I’d fall down and say come help me honey
You laughed out loud, I guess you thought it was funny
I sobered up, and I got to thinkin’
Girl you ain’t much fun since I quit drinkin’

Now I’m paintin’ the house and I’m mendin’ the fence
I guess I gone out and lost all my good sense
Too much work is hard for your health
I could’ve died drinkin’, now I’m killing myself
And I’m feedin’ the dog, sackin’ the trash
It’s honey do this, honey do that
I sobered up, and I got to thinkin’
Girl you ain’t much fun since I quit drinkin’

“In Other Words” is a nice love ballad with no particular potential as a single. Written by Tony Haselden and Tim Mensy, the song is a nice jog-along ballad

Toby’s “Woman Behind the Man” is another nice slow ballad love song a man’s paean to his woman.
“Life Was a Play (The World a Stage)” was written by the trio of Johnny McCollum, Pal Rakes and Nelson Larkin. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I think should have been a single for someone. To me it sounds like somthing tailor made for Brooks and Dunn, Toby does it well but I think it better suited for B&D or some such similar act.

For whatever reason the title track, “Boomtown” was not released as a single. The song has a some of Toby’s strongest lyrics as a composer. Perhaps the song hit a little too close to home for some people. In fact, it is still current and still relevant. Anyway I love the song.

The people came here from parts unknown
Sleepin’ in their cars ’cause they didn’t have homes
Thought this place was the promised land
If you could roughneck, we could use a good man
Come on boy let me show you around
You could make a lot of money here

Livin’ in a boomtown
We’ll some build bars and big hotels
Downshift drive and the people live well
High on the hog and wild on the range
Pocket full of cash instead of chump change
This place kicks when the sun goes down

See oil was the blood that flowed through the soul
To keep a man workin’ when it’s forty below
Relent to the devil in the cold cold ground
Trying to make a dollar here livin’ in a boomtown

Six short years the oil fields went
Rigs came down and the money got spent
And the wisemen saved for a rainy day
The fools packed up and moved away
The hotels closed and the bars shut down
And it got real quiet livin’ in a boomtown

Boomtown is definitely a county album with a sterling cast of musicians including Sonny Garrish on steel guitar. I regard this as the nascent Toby Keith showing more still signs of the artist he was to become.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith ft Ricky Skaggs – ‘You Ain’t Much Fun’

Classic Rewind: Toby Keith – ‘Should’ve Been A Cowboy’

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Toby Keith’

toby keithToby Keith’s debut album in 1993 showcased him not only as an impressive vocalist with a big booming voice, but as a singer-songwriter. He wrote all but two of the songs, and with no recourse to co-writers.

‘Should’ve Been A Cowboy’, the first single, was an immediate, and enduring, success for Toby, speeding to the top of the charts, and becoming the most played song on country radio for the whole decade of the 1990s. Filled with visual imagery and nostalgia for the sanitized old movie and TV Western depictions of a cowboy’s life, it is pleasant listening but the polar opposite of the harsher reality offered in ‘Went For A Ride’, recorded by Radney Foster the previous year.

The contemporary styled ballad ‘He Ain’t Worth Missing’ reached #5, and is earnestly sung, although the keyboards now sound dated. ‘Under The Fall’ is on much the same theme (consoling a lovelorn woman), but is a less well written song.

The last two singles both peaked at #2. The catchy and rocking ‘A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action’ was one of the two non Keith-penned tunes, although it heralds much of his later work. It was written by Keith Hinton and Jimmy Alan Stewart. Stewart also co-wrote (with Chuck Cannon) ‘Some Kinda Good Kinda Hold On Me’(written by Chuck Cannon and Jimmy Alan Stewart), which is up-tempo filler with an effective groove and an extended sax solo.

The final single, ‘Wish I Didn’t Know Now’, with its wounded take on deception and lost love, is my favourite of the singles. Also very good is the breakup ballad ‘Ain’t No Thang’, although I’m mildly irritated by the spelling choice.

‘Valentine’ is an overly forceful ballad which would work better with a subtler, more vulnerable approach (I’m tempted to say with anyone other than Toby Keith singing it). He shows, however, that he is capable of subtlety on ‘Mama Come Quick’, a nicely constructed tune which compares a childhood hurt to the pain of a broken relationship, and pays tribute to a mother’s loving consolation. Very nice.

The closing track, ‘Close But No Guitar’, is a wryly amusing story song which I enjoyed a great deal. The protagonist has been left behind by an old girlfriend who has gone on to make it big in Nashville. He ends up covering her hit songs for pennies in the same old bar they started out in together.

The album reflected the performance of the singles, and was certified platinum. It was a bright start to Toby Keith’s career and stands up reasonably well today

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Toby Keith

toby-keith-1Our October spotlight artist is one of the few remaining commercial links to the 1990s and one who arguably was the face of country music during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Toby Keith Covel was born in Clinton, Oklahoma on July 8, 1961. His interest in music was sparked during summers spent with his grandmother, who owned a supper club in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He played football in high school and played semi-professionally after graduation. During that time he was also a member of the Easy Money Band, which played in local bars, but the oil industry, where he worked as a derrick hand, paid the bills.

Covel dropped his surname for professional purposes and moved to Nashville in 1990, with the goal of obtaining a recording contract by his 30th birthday. With the self-imposed deadline looming, Keith was about to give up and return to Oklahoma, when he was signed to Mercury Records by Harold Shedd. His first single for the label, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” quickly climbed to #1. He spent the next five years being shuffled around between Mercury and its sister labels Polydor and A&M. His records consistently made the Top 10 and he regularly achieved platinum level sales, yet he struggled to stand out from a pack that was dominated by artists such as Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt.

All of that would change when Keith left Mercury in 1998 to sign with the fledgling DreamWorks Nashville label. The following year he released his breakthrough single, the in-your-face “How Do You Like Me Now”, which he had co-written with Chuck Cannon some years earlier, but Mercury had not let him record. The suits at DreamWorks also had some reservations, but they quickly abated when the record spent five weeks at #1 in the spring of 2000.

Keith became a label exec himself, founding the Show Dog Nashville imprint when DreamWorks closed its doors in 2005. Show Dog Nashville has since merged with Universal South and is now known as Show Dog-Universal Music. By this time, Toby’s bombastic personality and his political views were beginning to overshadow his music. His response to the events of September 11, 2001, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” played to country music’s conservative base and earned him the contempt of the political left, as did 2003’s pro-military “American Solider”. Both records were multi-week #1s, and eventually led to a very bitter public feud with The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines.

Although radio has cooled towards Toby Keith in the past few years, he remains one of country music’s most visible and prolific artists. His latest album 35 MPH Town, will be released on October 9th, providing us with the opportunity to look back at Toby’s career so far.

Week ending 8/29/15: # singles this week in country music history

do-not-reuse-glen-campbell-1970-bb35-billboard-650-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Rhinestone Cowboy — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1985: Real Love — Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Loving You Easy — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/BLMG/Republic)

Concert Review: Loretta Lynn in Cohasset, MA

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Loretta Lynn escorted by her daughter Patsy onstage at the South Shore Music Circus, August 22, 2015

In the immortal words of the almighty Chris M. Wilcox, we need to revere the living icons of country music and ‘Love ‘em while They’re Here.’ His 2012 piece is a subtle battle cry of sorts, a wake up call to seek out concerts the talent we’re fortunate still has the energy and stamina to traverse the country and put on shows. Wilcox’s article is met with added urgency for the mere fact a good number of the artists he cited have died since it was published.

One legend still going strong, at 83, is Loretta Lynn. I had the good fortune of seeing her live for the first time last Saturday, August 22, at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA. I’ve seen many a legend there through the years and have witnessed many incredible evenings of music under their tent. But this may’ve been the most special night of all.

The night began with Lynn’s daughter Patsy taking the stage with some housekeeping and other general announcements. She got the crowd going with talk of an autographed box set and lyric book available at the merchandise booth. Once she was done, Lynn’s band The Coal Miners (which features her son) took the stage for some opening numbers to get the crowd going. They began with a feisty “Mama Tried” and ended with “Good As I Once Was.” The pair is random on paper, but the Toby Keith hit really isn’t terribly far off from the Merle Haggard classic sonically.

I was pleasantly surprised when Patsy returned with her sister Peggy for a couple of tunes. They opened with a contemporary number before closing with the crowd pleasing “Tulsa Time.” I was kind of remiss they didn’t perform “Nights Like These,” but I was likely the only one in the crowd to distinctly remember their sole “hit” from the late 1990s.

Once Loretta came out to a standing ovation, she literally didn’t let up for just over an hour. A blessing of country music from her era is the length of songs. At about two minutes or so each, you can cram in quite a bit in a short amount of time. And boy did Lynn give us everything she’s got.

I’m not as familiar with everything in her vast catalog, but I was surprised just how many of her hits I was familiar with, at least on some level. Lynn ran through the requisite classics – “Fist City,” “The Pill,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin,’” “You’re Lookin’ At Country,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” Lynn executed each of her iconic songs with precision – no false notes or signs her voice has significantly aged.

The poignant “Dear Uncle Sam,” which she said she wrote at the start of the Vietnam War was an emotional highlight. For a forty-nine year old song, the message in “Dear Uncle Sam” rang loud and clear. Everyone was chocked up when she got to the final verse. It was a lesson that great songs really do stand the test of time.

IMG_5122Lynn didn’t go off a set list, which allowed for audience requests. I hate that distracting option, but it didn’t hinder the flow at all. No matter what we threw at her, she gave all the gusto she had. Her son joined her on “Feelings,” the only one of the duets with Conway Twitty that was performed. Lynn also gave a gorgeous reading of “Love Is The Foundation” and added even more humor to “One’s On The Way” by upping the number of kids in the title (“Four’s on The Way”). I’ve always found that song to be a little cutesy, but it’s one of the most honest portrayals of motherhood in country music history.

The only negative aspect of the evening, and it was very minor, was Lynn’s overall attitude. She seemed a little sad – frustrated when she didn’t feel her voice was making it. Lynn explained to the audience how she’s much better when she’s sung on consecutive nights opposed to coming back after three or so weeks without a performance. Towards the end of the hour she had to rest and her band took over with a couple more songs. Once they made the decision to have Lynn sing “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” you knew the once-in-a-lifetime night was drawing to a close.

The concert was magnificent. I truly couldn’t have asked for anything more from a woman who’s given so much goodness to the betterment of country music. It would’ve been wonderful to hear her talk more about the individual songs, (she did say no one would probably remember “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” after she performed it), but she chose to fit in as much music as she could instead. There’s no arguing about the gift of hearing great music instead of a lot of talking. She also focused solely on the hits, leaving out tracks from Still Country and Van Lear Rose.

What surprised me, though, was how modern everything sounded. I didn’t feel like I was listening to tracks designed for a 1960s/1970s musical landscape. Lynn’s songs are so expertly composed they transcend decades and trends. No matter what generation you were from, and there were some kids in the audience, you could relate to what Lynn was singing. It’s a good thing, too, because five new albums are coming – Patsy teased them at the start of the night.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to have had this rare chance to see Loretta Lynn live. If she hadn’t come to that venue, I never would’ve sought her out. I urge anyone who’s never been to one of her shows to run if given the chance. Chris M. Wilcox is correct, we really do have to love ‘em while they’re here.

Week ending 8/22/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tumblr_lq9ewnZ1pX1qa9uo9o1_1280-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Highwayman — The Highwaymen (Columbia)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Kiss You In The Morning — Michael Ray (Warner Bros./Atlantic)

Week ending 8/15/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-51955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (and the Last Thing Ev’ry Night) — Jimmy Dean (Columbia)

1975: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: I’m For Love — Hank Williams Jr. (Warner Bros./Curb)

1995: I Didn’t Know My Own Strength — Lorrie Morgan (BNA)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: Kick the Dust Up — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Kick the Dust Up — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Week ending 8/8/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

220px-Jimmy_Dean_19661955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (and the Last Thing Ev’ry Night) — Jimmy Dean (Columbia)

1975: Just Get Up and Close the Door — Johnny Rodriguez (Mercury)

1985: 40 Hour Week (For A Livin’) — Alabama (RCA)

1995: I Don’t Even Know Your Name — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: Kick the Dust Up — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): One Hell of an Amen — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

Week ending 8/1/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

65d4876d6c6750a7cc2bf6e0f47728951955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): A Satisfied Mind — Porter Wagoner (RCA)

1965: Before You Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Touch the Hand — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1985: Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart It Breaks) — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1995: Any Man of Mine — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Tonight Looks Good On You — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)