Toby Keith is America’s embarrassing brother-in-law, forever spouting jingoistic rhetoric learned at the knee of America’s racist uncle and outlaw-turned-right wing shill, Hank Williams Jr. Even though he still writes ham-fisted songs about the Taliban — and 9/11 was the best thing that ever happened to his career — at least ol’ Toby’s not out there comparing our President to Hitler. The Führer does make an appearance on the hokey by-the-shore jam “Rum Is the Reason,” though, which is perhaps the most bizarre moment of Keith’s otherwise wholly unremarkable new album, 35 mph Town.
"Drunk Americans," the first single from Toby Keith's 18th studio album, appeared in October 2014 but the accompanying 35 MPH Town didn't show up until a year later, a good indication that the single didn't perform as well as expected. Despite its alcoholic title -- something of a tradition for Keith in the new millennium, where all seven singles subsequent to 2011's "Red Solo Cup" bar one have booze on the brain -- "Drunk Americans" did suggest Keith was looking to break away from the slight electronic sheen of 2013's Drinks After Work, as it was the work of songwriters Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Bob DiPiero, a trio who represented a post-bro country vanguard. Perhaps if it had risen into the Country Top 20, more of 35 MPH Town would've been aligned with this new Nashville, but as it panned out, Keith went back to the tried and true, crafting songs that fall within his wheelhouse.
"The jukebox knows no shame," sings Toby Keith on the honky-tonk boilerplate "Haggard, Hank & Her" — and that's good news for him. Keith's umpteenth studio LP is a 10-piece bucket of his signature country craftsmanship: sobriety-hating, liberal-baiting, self-deprecating. "Drunk Americans" is a charmingly awkward red-blue-state bear hug; the button-pushing title track rues godless youth who need a good whuppin'.
It’s easy to complain about the dearth of classic soul music being made these days. And it’s true — contemporary R&B has all but abandoned the gestures of the 1960s and ’70s, and even its adult contemporary wing owes more to denuded smooth jazz than to vintage soul’s punchy lust. Classic ….