The 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.