Album Review: Toby Keith – American Ride

Juli Thanki | October 23rd, 2009

toby-keith-american-ride-album-reviewSay what you will about Toby Keith, but he’s nothing if not a hard worker. It’s been less than a year since That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy was released (hell, the gold record probably isn’t even hung up in the Show Dog Nashville office) and here he is with another album, one that’s already added another single to his long list of #1s.

Keith wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs on American Ride (mostly joined by longtime collaborator Bobby Pinson), and while there aren’t any particularly masterful lyrics, they get the job done and are halfway catchy to boot. The only song Keith didn’t have a hand in writing is the title track, and maybe that’s a good thing; “American Ride” is the weakest song on the album, with Keith shouting his way through an asinine chorus and lyrics referencing “the YouTube.” If you’re looking for humorous commentary on modern society, Jason Boland & The Stragglers cover the same ground a little more deftly in their song “Pearl Snaps.”

Though he’s known for his chest-thumping (and let’s face it: there are few, if any, commercial country artists who can do it better), the best songs on American Ride are the ones in which Keith drops the swagger and the shouting and just sings. The result is a sound similar to the 1990s material that initially catapulted him into country superstardom. “Gypsy Driftin’” is a toe-tapper about life on the road while the slow burning “Are You Feelin’ Me” would sound right at home among the ballads of Dream Walkin’. “Cryin’ for Me (Wayman’s Song)” is a touching tribute to jazz musician/basketball player Wayman Tisdale (the album is also dedicated to Tisdale); it’s also some of the best songwriting Toby Keith’s done to date, featuring an opening lyric that’s like a punch to the gut for anyone who’s experienced a similar loss: “Got the news on Friday morning/But a tear I couldn’t find/You showed me how I’m supposed to live/Now you showed me how to die.” Keith’s singing here really shows what he’s capable of as an artist, especially as he stretches his own musical boundaries a bit by enlisting the help of Dave Koz, who contributed some lite jazz saxophone to the song, Arthur Thompson, and Marcus Miller.

Now, just because he’s dropping the swagger doesn’t mean the guy can’t be funny. After all, this is the fella who wrote “You Ain’t Much Fun.” One of the album’s standout songs, “You Can’t Read My Mind” finds Toby at his most charming as he desperately tries to avoid screwing up a chance at love, singing “Baby I can’t tell you what I’m thinking/I’ve had way too much to drink tonight/This is where I usually say something out of line/Just be glad that right now you can’t read my mind.”. Trying for funny and missing the mark is the admittedly catchy “Every Dog Has Its Day,” whose infectious hook is offset by an unfortunate stanza that may have been cribbed from Go Dog Go.

Rounding out the record is “Ballad of Balad,” a grunt’s-eye-view tale about military life that begins with some iffy recruiting methods down at the Winn-Dixie and ends with a rowdy singalong courtesy of The Hogliners. Accented by banjo, “Ballad” is free of the jingoism Keith’s detractors often accuse him of, though his use of the unwieldy phrase “all them son of a bitches” puts the Big Dog Daddy, as banjo picker Steve Martin might sing, in the grammar slammer.

There’s nothing inherently unlistenable about American Ride except perhaps the title track. There is, however, too much unmemorable filler in between the quality songs. Maybe it’s time for some fresh blood in the Show Dog kennel.

3.5 Stars

  1. Leeann Ward
    October 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I don’t have this album, but Score for me in our agreement on “Cryin’ for Me.” I actually think Keith is able to be funny, which is why I like his White Trash with Money album. Sounds like I should just download a couple of the songs from this one, rather than buy the whole thing though.

  2. Rick
    October 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Its nice to hear the Tobester is still capable of recording quality material and presenting it well. What are the odds any of the standout tracks will make it on Top 40 AirHead Country radio? Not too good I’d surmise…

    As for the “grammar slammer”, the use of colloquial terminology to represent a certain mindset is a proven and effective literary tool. Look at African-American Jim’s spoken words in Huckleberry Finn….

    PS – Since Toby’s album sales are the only thing financing Show Dog these days (its sure not Trailer Choir, Micah Roberts, or Carter’s Chord), he’ll put out albums as often as it takes to keep the label’s doors open and his lifestyle intact.

  3. Kim
    October 23, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I think its interesting that Toby doesn’t have a little better talent than that on his record label. He is a very good mainstream talent and involved in the industry for a long time, I understand that that might just prove that being talented and finding it are two different things. Still, I think Toby and his people could do better.

  4. andre
    October 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

    This is a great album and worth purchasing the entire thing, you will enjoy it, there’s just no songs you have to skip to listen all the way through. I think it ends all too fast.

  5. Pierce
    October 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I’m a fan of most of Toby’s stuff, and I agree with this review.

    But I will have to say that I’m not a fan of the album frequency. Willie can pull it off. Strait can pull it off. But so far, Toby’s last three albums all kind of mesh together for me. I still haven’t heard anything since that tops Honky Tonk U.

  6. rockerbillie
    October 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    American Ride is a terrific album. Even though some of you don’t like the title track it has lit fire and definitely has legs.

    I believe in Toby’s other acts on his label. If you are in Nashville, catch Carter’s Chord in one of the clubs. They have talent that you just cannot buy these days. True harmony that is old school. Trailer Choir is fun and can kick A just as good as the Big Dawg. Micah has a wonderful voice and is successful in her own right.

  7. rockerbillie
    October 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    also, you cannot discount the other songs within the CD. The blues song ‘Woke up on my own’ is haunting. Agree ‘You can’t read my mind’ is terrific and should be released. ‘Tender as I wanna be’ is a rockin romantic Ballad. The humor is fun with ‘If I had one’.

  8. Drew
    October 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Think I agree with everything Juli said (seems to be a trend lately, haha)

    “Are You Feelin’ Me” and “Cryin’ For Me” are both very good tracks, especially the latter. I enjoyed “Ballad of Balad”, “Gypsy Driftin”, and “Tender As I Wanna Be”.

    As for the title track… it’s just terrible. Usually I like his patriotic stuff, but this is just dumb and dull.

  9. Drew
    October 23, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    “If You’re Tryin’ You Ain’t”, “If I Had One”, and “Every Dog Has Its Day” are also throwaway garbage.

  10. Collin
    October 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    When I saw that one of the songs was “Every Dog Has Its Day,” I expected a Corey Smith cover. I’m not a big Corey Smith fan or a UGA fan, but I still like his better.

  11. Mayor Jobob
    October 23, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Toby’s been releasing new material every year since 2002, it has to be getting harder….

  12. patty
    October 23, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I have the new american ride cd and I can’t find anything wrong with any of his songs.I could listen to this from top to bottom many times over. I have also seen an interview of toby’s where he was talking about this new release and why he wrote and/or sang these songs and what it ment to him.

  13. Steve M.
    October 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Toby Keith to me has always been one of the more frustrating country artists. He is capable of crafting beautiful song (I love “She never cried in front of me”) but then he is capable of producing an enormous amount of schlock. Its like Good Tobie and Bad Tobie are at war with each other.

  14. Andrew
    October 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I’m a big Toby fan. Both times I’ve seen him live I came away with the impression that he had the talent and showmanship to be another Garth Brooks.

    Unfortunately, his material over the last five years or so hasn’t been good enough quality to reach that level. I think he would be well-served to slow down his output to allow time for better songwriting.

  15. rockerbillie
    October 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Andrew, just so you know and anyone else who needs to be informed — Toby is the songwriter of the decade, selected by his peers of the Nashville songwriting community. That community is made up of 5000 of the most talented songwriters around. No one can touch Toby’s songwriting catalogue. And Definitely in my opinion, Toby is a better entertainer all around compared to Garth. A much better businessman as well.

  16. Steve Harvey
    October 26, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    ‘No one can touch Toby’s songwriting catalogue.’
    Rodney Crowell? Jim Lauderdale? Craig Wiseman?

  17. Matt B.
    October 27, 2009 at 12:46 am

    I think Toby’s a very good songwriter but there are plenty of people who I think are better songwriters and two are mentioned by Steve (Rodney Crowell and Jim Lauderdale) and I think there are a few more like Vince Gill too. Hell, Gill released a very fine 4 disc collection of all-new music. That’s insane and there’s hardly a bad track on that collection.

  18. PaulaW
    October 27, 2009 at 8:03 am

    ‘No one can touch Toby’s songwriting catalogue.’
    Rodney Crowell? Jim Lauderdale? Craig Wiseman?

    Bob DiPiero, Rivers Rutherford, Aaron Barker ….

  19. Bob
    October 27, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Gary Nicholson, Gary Burr, Tony Arata

  20. PaulaW
    October 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Bobby Braddock, Bill Anderson, Mac Davis …..

  21. rockerbillie
    October 28, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Sure, you can name many great songwriters. But equate those writers songs with spins and airplay which translates to making the catalogue worth it’s weight in gold. Craig Wiseman has also been recognized and honored by his peers. Toby is in the category of over 35 million albums sold with over 50 million spins. The spins accomplishment is amazing. 50 million spins compares to writers like Lennon and Billy Joel. That is some big dollar Ka-Ching.

  22. Chris N.
    October 28, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Toby sure does love telling you how many “spins” he has. And how many records he’s sold, and how much money he has.

  23. PaulaW
    October 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    We’re sort of comparing oranges to tangelos here, because Toby was named ARTIST/WRITER of the decade, not just ‘writer’. Craig Wiseman won the WRITER of the decade honor.

    Toby’s “spins” and “records sold” include quite a few solid hits NOT penned by Toby (at least one of which was penned by Craig Wiseman).

    http://www.cmt.com/pictures/2009-nashville-songwriters-hall-of-fame/1624141/4324824/photo.jhtml

    I imagine if we add up all the spins Craig’s songs have gotten he could hold his own with TK. And I imagine Bobby Braddock’s would far surpass TK’s. (By the way Bobby also penned one of Toby’s hits).

  24. Chris N.
    October 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    To be fair, Bobby Braddock’s been at it for about 40-odd years.

  25. rockerbillie
    October 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Comparisons are not needed. Toby is the songwriter artist of the decade. Craig is the songwriter of the decade. I have not read or heard of anyone besides Toby being recognized for being over the 50 million spin mark. If there is news, then it has not surfaced to the top. All the songwriters making hits are successful. The main difference as an artist/songwriter you don’t have to go and look for material to publish. Toby writes around 30 songs a year and puts the top 11 or 12 on his CD’s. Someone like Craig finds artists to use his songs. You cannot deny Toby’s well deserved success as an artist/songwriter/businessman/entertainer/etc…. that’s all I’m sayin. In Nashville, those that succeed hit it big and as some of the artists say, you either make it big or you don’t.

  26. PaulaW
    October 29, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    @ rocerkbillie

    it’s not your recent statement: You cannot deny Toby’s well deserved success as an artist /songwriter/businessman/entertainer/etc….
    that I am arguing with …..

    but rather your original one:
    No one can touch Toby’s songwriting catalogue.
    I’ll argue that one til the cows come home.

  27. rockerbillie
    October 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    what is the point of arguing? This is a discussion. We don’t know what the catalogue’s are worth. Toby has referenced in articles before that no one can touch it. The meaning is interpreted more ways than one. I am looking at it as he is his own artist, he doesn’t have to go thru other people or search for someone to pick up his songs. No one else has the rights to them. You would have to ask a songwriter if they have that arrangement. The songwriter of the decade also in an article Toby mentioned where he says the person with the most number ones and the most spins of the decade, that is the criteria they look at.

    I look at the record biz as a footrace. The faster the song gets to be number one, the more spins made, the more value it has. So if you are your own songwriter, potentially you have the edge without going thru others and you already are making hits….

  28. PaulaW
    October 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Toby has referenced in articles before that no one can touch it.

    Oh, well, then … it must be so. (unfortunately you cant hear my extremely exagerated sarcasm here).

  29. rockerbillie
    October 29, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    why do you have such an issue with success? Or is just because it is Toby’s success? I applaud anyone who works hard and achieves what they want and beyond. Good ole fashioned work ethic. That is just being smart to have the own rights to your work.

  30. rockerbillie
    October 29, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Once upon a time in America, people were interested in the building of success. Now, many focus on the tearing down or slighting those who are successful. I really hope we can go back to the building up of America and not the tearing down. Just think if everyone focused on their own success and built up others along the way. That is an admirable strength and I believe it is what the U.S.A.’s foundation is.

  31. PaulaW
    October 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Toby has worked hard for his success, and I do openly admit that he is sucessful – and I dont have a problem with Toby OR his success. I like some of Toby’s stuff (ie: Cryin’ For Me) and I dislike some of it (ie: American Ride).

    My comment was that I disagree with a particular statement you made, and the fact that “Toby said it” wont make me agree with it.

    I’m also done with this “conversation”. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  32. rockerbillie
    October 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I never was disagreeing with anyone, just participating with comments. Much can be learned from someone who is successful.

  33. Chasity
    November 19, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    this is chasity from amory ms. my uncle died october 9th 2009 they pulled him up to the table to eat and he took two deep breathes and just died right their with me watching him die. i cried when i heard that song called crying for me. if you would could you please get the Extreme Makeove Home Edition to come and help my brother with his house. they have a 2 week old baby and don’t have a place to live at right now, i just want them to be happy, that would mean the world to me if you would get them to come here and you come here to my number is 8252178 or 3151691 or call 3152410 thats my brothers number. my address is 50021 Gutyon Dr. thanks bye

  34. Chasity
    November 19, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    this letter is not true the address and the numbers are not true either. so bye bye ok ok ok

  35. Merl Haggard
    November 29, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Toby Keith is an extremely hard working artist who has the tremendous advantage of writing his own music. Most artists would kill to have one “I Love This Bar,” “As good As I once was,” “Get Drunk and be Somebody,” “Gypspy Drifting”, “Every Dog has its Day,” “If I had one,” “Loaded,” and like old man river Toby Keith just keeps grinding them out like he was some huge record label with a team of song writers writing for him. Wrong! It is Toby and his buddies working their toukous’ off and most of this criticism is pure jealousy/envy. I like Toby’s humorous and hard driving music, but the man has a golden baritone voice who knows how change dynamic levels and edge on his balads. Long live the King: Big Dog Daddy!!!!!!!!

  36. merlefan49
    November 29, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I love this bar? compare the lyrics to one of the last songs Johnny Cash wrote “The Man Comes Around”
    Or Merle’s “Today I started Loving You Again” which has been recorded by numerous artists in different genres.

  37. Vicki Bennett
    January 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    As always, stellar writing, composition and end product. You can’t beat Toby’s writing and singing. Just my humble opinion. He never disappoints.

  38. Vicki Bennett
    January 11, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Just for the record, all of this arguing about who’s the BEST songwriter, et cetera. When you can sit down and knock one out of the park, THEN you have the right to speak. Otherwise, you are a novice and don’t know shit from shinola of what you speak.

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