There’s some good news and some bad news regarding Toby Keith’s new album. Let’s start off with the “bad” news. It’s been three years since the singer enjoyed a top 10 record, and I don’t hear anything here that is going to change that trend.
OK…I’ve said that. So, you’re probably thinking this is a bad review, right? Far from it. 35 MPH Town might very well be the best album that Keith has ever released. A big statement, I know, but the music is definitely here, and he shines in ways that he never has before as a writer and a vocalist.
The lead single from the album is the witty “Drunk Americans,” which was written – not by Keith – but by red-hot tunesmiths Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. It’s a little piece of social commentary, but where it succeeds is that it’s not putting any social group down. It’s a shame that radio didn’t pick up on it any more than it did.
And, there’s even better material on the album. The title track evokes a comparison to Merle Haggard with its’ statement on how times have changed. In a sense, it’s kind of the modern day “Are The Good Times Really Over.” Keith – long influenced by the singer – namechecks the legend on “Haggard, Hank, and Her,” which with apologies to Steve Goodman and David Allan Coe – might be the “perfect modern-day country song.”
Other standouts on the album include the tropical flavor of “Rum Is The Reason,” (listen below) which stands as one of the most entertaining cuts on the album, and the laid back “Sailboat For Sale,” where Keith shows that same sense of humor that made “Red Solo Cup” a huge hit.
Ballad-wise, there are some strong moments, here as well. “Beautiful Stranger” evokes a comparison to some of his more deeper moments, such as “Upstairs Downtown,” and “What She Left Behind” is just pure brilliance. There’s nothing flashy about the lyrics or the performance, but the brilliance of the song shows that simplicity still works – and works well.
So, why the doom and gloom of the opening paragraph? It’s just that Country Radio isn’t really in a place where adult-based lyrics like this work as well on the airwaves these days. Hopefully, that will change, but kudos to Toby Keith for keeping true to himself, and recording an album that showcases who he is – instead of trying to cut something for radio’s sake. But, then again, the words demographic and Toby Keith never went together, and I’m glad to see that hasn’t changed!