Toby Keith has had the kind of career that young artists dream of. He’s released nearly an album a year for the last twenty years, more than forty of his singles have charted on the Billboard Hot Country Songs, and twenty or so have hit Number One. He’s one of the top-earning country artists in the business, and seven years ago he transitioned to a new role and founded his own successful label.
“Hope On The Rocks” represents the eighth straight year he’s released an album, a streak that started with a personal favourite of mine, 2005’s Honkytonk University. The album opens with the title track, a downbeat number about those for whom a bartender doubles as therapist – “Where do they go?/They come here/to drown in their sorrow/and cry in their beer.” Keith has never been particularly acclaimed for non-party/non-patriotic songs, but this number proves, as did songs like “I Ain’t Already There“, that he’s fully capable of turning out great music of all tempos.
Keith follows that up with an up-tempo barroom tale, “The Size I Wear”. The superstar is completely in his element here, calling dibs on the girl he likes with his signature lyrical flair. To my mind, this is the best song on the album, at least in part because it made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to it.
The unique sound of “Scat Cat” definitely takes a few listens to get used to. Once you do, though, you enjoy the story of a young man coping with the perils of the family business – running whiskey.
The first single off the album is “I Like Girls Who Drink Beer”, which again highlights Keith’s fast-paced, rhythmic lyrics in a catchy package that will have you putting it on repeat so you can learn it to sing along. It’s “Friends In Low Places” with Toby’s edge.
It’s more of the same in “Get Got”. The singer/songwriter rattles off little country pearls of wisdom so fast you’ll play it a half dozen times before catching them all. Keith makes it seem so easy that you almost wonder if this is a throwaway song or meant as a treat just for buyers of the disc, but the pulsing lyrics beg for dedicated airtime.
“Haven’t Had A Drink All Day” chugs along like the road warrior in the song. Only the references to getting “stoned this morning” make it clear this is a Toby Keith number, not a Road Hammers single.
The pace, and mood, lower considerably with “Haven’t Seen The Last Of You”. It’s a reflection about an ex he can’t get out of his head, but there are many better examples of this story.
“Cold Beer Country” breaks up a trio of sad tracks. It’s a simple, relaxed jukebox number, expounding on the merits of frosty beverages in the July heat.
“Missed You Just Right” is a melancholy ballad about the singer running into an old ex after having found the love of his life, while “You Ain’t Alone” is a lonely Spanish-sounding guitar lament – “If you’re all by yourself tonight/you ain’t alone.” Of the three sombre tunes, the latter is considerably better – melodically and lyrically expressive, Keith paints an evocative portrait of heartbreak and regret.
That’s the end of the regular album. The “Deluxe Edition”, however, includes unnecessary (and mostly unlistenable) bonus tracks. They include remixes of the accidental joke hit “Red Solo Cup” and of “Beers Ago”, and a live rendition of “Whiskey Girl”. None live up to the original versions.
The exception is the final track, a live performance of a song the performer admits he’ll never release to radio. “Get Out Of My Car” illustrates the dilemma faced at the end of a date. It’s hilarious, if politically incorrect, and gives the listener a taste of what a Toby Keith concert might be like.
His own history of success opens Keith to criticism any time an album doesn’t live up to expectations. That partly explains my initally lukewarm response to this effort, especially highlighted by the later songs on the disc. That said, I did warm up considerably to the CD after a couple listens. “The Size I Wear” is the best, but “Hope On The Rocks”, “Get Got”, and “You Ain’t Alone” are all good options to follow “I Like Girls That Drink Beer” onto the single charts.
“Hope On The Rocks” was released October 30.