Album Review: Toby Keith – American Ride
Say 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.
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