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Toby Keith

The Bus Songs – 2017 (Show Dog)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Toby Keith

People of a certain age can recall a time in America when a polyester-clad party host would reward late-night diehards with a "blue" record. These vinyl gems (or bootleg tapes) would be funny and frank, both in their language and adult subject matter. They paired well with alcohol, and just owning them could make someone a little cooler by association. Such a concept might mystify millennials who can punch up any song they imagine. But Toby Keith remembers.

This collection of "naughty" songs to make grandma blush is a Frankenstein monster. There are two new songs, five re-recorded and five previously released. That don't make it a bad thing, as Keith himself might say. But it is a buyer beware situation if someone owns a heap of these tracks already. The music lives up to its own simple premise of bringing a smile. Anybody who's ever cursed a dimpled Titleist will appreciate the leadoff "Sh*tty Golfer." Self-deprecation also rules the day with the love interest that gives Keith a definitive "Hell No." Production and arrangements are mostly simple, letting a few guitars and the Oklahoma baritone do the lifting. But for variety's sake, there's some steelpan Jimmy Buffett ("Rum in the Reason") and smoky jazz club ("The Critic"). In the latter track's jab at music reviewers, one might take issue with the idea they are little more than wimpy typists. But Keith's especially on point that they're poorly paid.

It's easy to picture certain politically-vocal folks having issues with some of the songs. Keith is candid, for example, that he likes his ladies thin ("The Size I Wear"), but is willing to venture out of that comfort zone for a friend ("Runnin' Block"). Getting a rise out of people, a musical tradition that goes back a long time, does seem to be part of the fun for Keith. But it doesn't come across mean-spirited, and it's fairly tame. Call it PG for all, but the most PC. If anything, the extrication of the schmaltz from Keith's catalog makes for a much better product. You won't miss another "She Never Cried In Front of Me," which felt way more forced than any of these tracks. Hop on the bus - it's a time machine headed for a swinging cocktail party, and the blue record is cued up.