With most contemporary country artists, you could guarantee that a song called "American Ride" would be a slice of jingoism, but Toby Keith isn't like most country singers. His "American Ride" casts a cynical eye at desperate housewives and wannabe pop stars, not celebrating down-home values but wondering where we're all headed on this American Ride at the end of the 2000s, a sentiment not all that far removed form some of Keith's previous social commentary, which makes it a mild surprise that it is the only song here that doesn't come from his own pen. As superb and striking as it is, it's not necessarily a good keystone for the rest of the record, which does have a few tougher numbers that pick up on the lean, mean vibe of 2008's That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy -- "Every Dog Has Its Day," the sly "If I Had One," and the heavy blues stomp "Loaded" -- but spends more time on the softer side, even when he kicks up a bit of dust on the dancefloor on "You Can't Read My Mind" or does a funny, respectful salute to military life on "Ballad of Balad.
An insanely ? prolific songwriter, Keith has released an album every year since 2005, most featuring a mix of rambunctious obnoxiousness and heartfelt balladeering. That same formula shows up here, with the brash mockery of current events in the title track offsetting ”Cryin’ for Me ? (Wayman’s Song),” a sweet tribute ? to a friend who passed away. But whereas a good Toby Keith tune should ? stubbornly stick in your craw, too few of these samey-sounding songs are memorable.