Religion surfaces on Chuck Cannon and Phil Madeira's "If I Were Jesus." A low-key effort rich with acoustics and some tasty Dobro licks, the song highlights a side of Keith that few outside his family and friends have seen.
"I'm a follower of Christ, and I'm probably not the best example in the world, but I believe in everything about Him and a lot of my life is operated upon the grounds of prayer," Keith says. "Chuck Cannon and his partner are both Baptist preachers' sons. They wrote it and played it for me, and I flipped out over the whole thing. I think it's become taboo, and I've heard my preacher talk about it, to use the word 'Jesus' in a lot of settings. A lot of people have worked in schools to try to take the word Jesus out of stuff, and that's a shame."
"Anyway, I think if everybody that doesn't have a friend in Jesus would maybe just look at Him as this mythical creation that casts lightning bolts on people, and they're not too sure about how good a friend He can be. I think this story, which is straight out of the Bible, might introduce somebody to Jesus that didn't know that He was just a guy who didn't walk with the kings and the royalty as much as He walked among the sinners and the poor. Instead of casting the first stone every time, he gave everybody something to live by every day. It's a beautiful thing."
Yet Keith says he kind of expects some flak over the song.
"I think the real hard-core Christians, old-school Christians, will look at it and go, 'You're painting Jesus in a rogue way,' but I played it for my pastor, who's a tremendous student of the Bible, and he said you absolutely have my blessing. It could sneak on in (as a single). I get a lot of requests for it."
So what shocks Keith?
"Man, the world we live in today, nothing too much anymore shocks me," he says. "Obviously, the big news reports about terrorists, still puts a big pit in your stomach every time something like that happens. It's gotten so extreme. Everybody in the commercial business has gravitated toward politically correctness, and the world has gravitated toward an eviler place that it's got to be chaos out there."
Political correctness, color them as four-letter words.
"I'm with you there, brother," Keith says.
Patriotism, for which Keith's now famously known, surfaces in the form of "American Soldier" and "The Taliban Song." It's doubtful that the maelstrom of controversy, which followed last year's boot-in-the-butt "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," will hound this year's endearing documentary-like "American Soldier."
"Some might say, well, he's waving the flag again," Keith says. "After 'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,' I would meet 8 or 10, 12, 15 soldiers every night after my shows. That's what I'm around every night, and I'm inspired by what's around me. So, 'American Soldier' was completely inspired by being around their families every night."
Look for "American Soldier" to be a single soon, Keith says.
"'American Soldier' is going to be huge," he says. "Instead of putting it out at the album's first single, I wanted to put 'Bar' out and show everybody that it ain't just the patriotic stuff that sells albums. I wanted to put a big redneck song out there, honky-tonkin'. Lay that down, and just hang up a big number and then let the album come out. The second the album went out, radio stations started playing 'American Soldier.' It will be a nice run."
So, given the album's title, "Shock 'N Y'all," Keith has a few particular ideas of which tunes may shock some people.
"'Weed with Willie' would probably blow somebody away," Keith says. "There's a song called 'The Critic,' which is for those people that critique albums who aren't qualified. You know, the one's I've run into about 'The Critic' have been professional and didn't let 'The Critic' stand in the way of their reviews or nothing. They just went on and enjoyed it as a piece of work. The ones who were under-qualified, didn't."
Like one in particular, Keith says, one of for whom the song was written."There's a guy in the Southwest. He's got an agenda for me. He's got it in for me. He's picked every place he can to take a nasty stab at me. I have some people on my crew who live in his town. If I'm coming to town he does a preview and tells everybody not to go. After I come to town and leave, he bashes the show and goes song for song about how absolutely nothing had gone right, even though it was a sold out arena where people went nuts. Then he does my albums like that and my singles. If an awards show is coming up and they announce who's gonna be on it, he'll always throw in a 'the over-rated Toby Keith.' He just constantly takes a stab at me."
So Keith put his talents to the situation.