Prime Cuts: Clancy's Tavern, I Won't Let You Down, Just Another Sun Down
When Keith sings, "Don't expect too much and I won't let you down" don't believe him. On this his 15th album, Keith has up the ante again and has set himself a career high standard. After having no top 10 hits from his last disc "Bullets in the Gun" and with no gold albums since 2008's "That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy," Keith has wizened up and have packed this disc with his best music in years. Keith has teamed up with Eddy Raven, Scotty Emerick, Bobby Pinson to craft songs with less predictable storylines and more multi-dimensional characters. In fact, there are no wasted characters in his songs; every character help convey Keith's emotions in very believable capacity. Though this is still a Toby Keith album whereby our grig rocks with attitude but age has also caught up with him. A closer listen reveals that many of the songs ("South of You," "Clancey's Tavern" and "Just Another Sundown") deal sympathetically with loneliness and emptiness. And yet such emotions are conveyed with a seasoned wisdom that a novice has no way of even dreaming of doing.
It's easy to see why "Made in America" is the album's lead single and Keith's 20th Number 1 hit. This is an in your face sonic bull that charges at you with hoof beat drums and galloping guitar riffs where Keith sings: ""It breaks his heart seeing foreign cars / Filled with fuel that isn't ours / And wearing cotton we didn't grow."Though such jingoism might be what radio wants, it is just a lazy re-cycling of many of Keith's previous other patriotic tunes (such as "American Ride," "Courtesy of the Red, Blue and White" and "American Soldier"). Much better is the Cajun influenced "Tryin' to Fall in Love" where Keith chronicles (albeit with a witty wick) the challenges of finding true love. One can't help but smile at how much details are packed into this song that makes it so engagingly realistic. "Club Zydeco Moon" has to be awarded for the most original lyrics to a country song; this is a dark story of how a young man's visit to a brothel haunted him for the rest of his life. It's no surprise that such an intricate piece came from the pens of Keith and Eddy Raven. Raven also contributes in co-penning "South of You." Here Raven and Keith take the happy-go-lucky tropical beach song and turn it into a heartbreaking tune where the heartbroken protagonist wish he could be anywhere "south of you."
As for the title cut "Clancy's Tavern," it is named after Keith's grandmother's bar. On this gorgeous Irish folk waltz, Keith brings us into his grandma's tavern into a time machine back to the days he would play in the bar and observe all the people with their peculiar lives patronizing the pub. Keith meanders over a few other songs with this bar theme: "Just Another Sun Down" is your traditional cry in your beer ballad that is given a fresh coat of paint with Keith's earnest delivery. "I Need to Hear A Country Song" also from the same beer drinking vicinity takes on a rocking/blues drive with lots of irresistible hooks and shooting catch phrases. "Beers Ago" and "Red Solo Cup" are your silly rowdy ditties that you kind of have to expect from Keith.
Keith teams up with former band mate and fellow artist Scotty Emerick in creating "Chill-Axin.'" This is the best "decompressing" song in a while--its island breezy melody is infectious. While "I Won't Let You own" like Alan Jackson's "I'll Try" is realistically romantic without having the maudlin sheen. Though "Clancy's Tavern" has its obligatory numbers and a few silly odes, this is still one of Keith's best efforts in years. Unlike last year's "Bullets in the Gun" which has a rugged dark edge to it, this is contemplative, relaxing and in the moments when he charges, he does it well too.