As his latest 12-song outing demonstrates, few singer-songwriter's craft a commercial hook song as well as Toby Keith. Combining the by now standard mix of rock guitars with honky-tonk instrumentation, Keith largely eschews political ideology in favor of sincerely rendered romantic moments (Are You Feeling' Me, Tender As I Wanna Be
) and self-reproach (Woke Up On My Own
). And, just in case there was any doubt, he assures us that singing country music is preferable to digging ditches (Gypsy Drifter
However, the most heart-wrenching moments come via an easy listening style tribute to the late bass player/songwriter/hoop star Waymon Tisdale (Cryin' For Me), wherein the singer's brilliant emotional command allows him to grieve without becoming maudlin.
As strong as the ballads are, Keith excels at blue collar barroom anthems that are danceable (Loaded) and downright funny (If I Had One, You Can't Read My Mind). Further, the two tracks that touch on contemporary events are ironic in nature. The title, hit song - the only song he didn't write - offers tongue-in-cheek observations about a host of current pop culture staples. Best of all, his Johnny Horton-like paean to a young soldier stationed in Iraq (Ballad of Balad) gleefully rings with empathy as he sings, "you never told me I'd get my ass shot at."
On occasion, Keith will prop up slight lyrics with chorus repetitions or needlessly employ rock instrumentation. Yet, the Oklahoma-born superstar's wittier observations and barrel-chested, good ol' boy vocals transforms every passage into a delightful act of redneck defiance.