Country Jukebox Jury LP: Toby Keith – Peso In My Pocket

I know a few things about Toby Keith. His last big hit was a decade ago, about the wonders of the red solo cup; he invested in Big Machine and got lots of money out of Taylor Swift; and he loves his I Love This Bar and Grill, which means he is rich enough to stay off the road. He was the ACM Entertainer of the Year 2002 and 2003, recorded Beer for my Horses with Willie Nelson and was a patriot who made money selling American patriotism back to America after the September 11 attacks. He also played the Trump inauguration, and the President rewarded him with a Medal of Arts.

Toby was a road warrior in the 1990s and 2000s and is still a keen player to US troops stationed overseas. He’s got the type of face which was deemed marketable in the SoundScan era of Garth, Reba and McGraw. He’s had a slew of big hits including the fun, tongue-twisting I Wanna Talk About Me, his debit smash Should’ve Been A Cowboy and the self-deprecating As Good As I Once Was (which would not even TOUCH the shelf today!).

Having turned 60 in July, he’s very much a legacy artist, one who I can play on my In The Red Dirt show because he’s from Oklahoma. Indeed the opening cover of a groovy track called Oklahoma Breakdown, originally released by Stoney LaRue, is excellent. The title track has an addictive groove and a lyric which is perfect for pre-gaming before a great night out, even if it isn’t in Mexico. ‘Gringo in my lingo’ is a fun line to sing.

Similarly funky is Old Me Better where Keith is ‘having second thoughts’ about his changed situation with fewer chances to party. In a similar vein, as an older guy looking back on stuff he has done, The Warren Brothers gift Toby the triple-time Days I Shoulda Died. The third verse is all about Zippo lighters and flames, which is very Toby Keith.

Rockstar Sammy Hagar co-wrote Growing Up is a Bitch with Toby, which is another very Toby Keith songtitle. The song opens with complaints about diets and how you ‘better listen to your doctor and your wife’; again, there is the dichotomy between growing old and having fun as you did when you were younger, which makes this album a sort of concept album.

Old School, written by Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris, was another pre-released track with a three-chord groove and a smart lyric about going out and having fun in old-fashioned ways, such as eating at Dairy Queen and listening to Bon Jovi (‘we’re halfway there’ is found in the second verse).

Toby is free to do as he wishes on his Show Dog imprint, rather than making money for a major label, and he shows himself to be a student of songwriting,. Thunderbird is a great study in classic Red Dirt country, with a brilliant arrangement and vocal. He interprets Take A Look At My Heart, written by Johns Prine and Mellencamp, with a lot of chugging that references the original, which had backing vocals from Bruce Springsteen. In fact, the politics of all three of those songwriters are far, far left of Toby’s! Music isn’t red or blue, might be the inference.

Meanwhile he rips off the rhyming ‘back, Jack/ plan, Stan’ of Paul Simon on the country ballad She’s Drinkin Again: ‘She’s mean as a snake, Jake…Don’t get up in her grill, Bill’. It’ll be a live favourite, especially with the brass instrumental section, as will the track which Toby put out this past July 4. Happy Birthday America is the latest in Toby’s series of patriotic songs that pander to his audience: ‘I get to wake up in your freedom…Seems like everybody’s pissing on the Red, White and Blue’.

At least he’s not afraid to be political, and everyone else has caught up. It still seems sad that Toby could have a career while the Dixie Chicks were run out of town. That’s country, folks.

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