Toby Keith American Ride Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

The production is superb, but the lyrics lack any subtlety or sensitivity.

Nick Barraclough 2009

If Toby Keith ever cracks the charts over here it will be a sad day.

Take a look at the reverse of the sleeve and you’ll see why. Our Toby, bandana around his head, shades in place, sitting on a one of those huge Harleys that burned-out stockbrokers buy with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on its petrol tank. And he’s serious.

Keith went from so-so honky tonk singer to hero (or pariah, depending on your viewpoint) when he released his Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) single in the summer of 2002, inspired by the events of September 11th 2001, which included lyrics such as “And you’ll be sorry you messed with the US of A / ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your a** / It’s the American Way”. Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, said the song was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant”.

That’s exactly what’s wrong with Toby Keith and his music. It is crass. There isn’t an ounce of sensitivity, nuance, or finesse. And I know what you’re thinking: this is country music; it’s not supposed to be subtle. Well, listen to Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton and many others and you’ll understand.

This bloke has sold 30 million albums and is the fourth-best-selling artist in the US over the last ten years; that puts him ahead of Britney, Madonna and Springsteen. It’s an astounding statistic given what’s on offer on this album. Here’s a verse from the last track, Ballad of Balad: “The first night on combat we went on patrol / They ambushed our convoy and we chased the a****** / We found them all hidin’ in low water ditches / And we took aim and killed all them son of a b******.”

The best that can be said about it is the production and performance, including as it does Nashville’s finest musicians, is utterly superb and should be an object lesson on all music technology courses. Just don’t listen to the lyrics or the melodies. Or look at his picture.

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