I have to confess, I’ve always been a big fan of Toby Keith. Not just the artist but the person. He’s in my top five and probably always will be. Why? Because of three qualities that are simply unwavering with this man … his integrity, tenacity and reliability to be who he says he is. And to balance that tower of personal strength, this unwavering patriot has as strong a tender side. Talk about yin-yang, personal paradox, harmonic balance. Toby Keith defines it.
That being said I’ll also confess, I don’t have all of his albums and have only seen him twice live.
So I was truly looking forward to Clancy’s Tavern, wondering how much of which side of his personality would be portrayed or would there be a 50/50 balance.
The man ceases to amaze me with his surprises and his songwriting.
Clancy’s Tavern may pay tribute to a time, place and person in Toby’s life (his grandmother and the tavern she owned and he visited during his youthful summer years) but there’s a sultry maturity to his vocals and an album direction and musical diversity that’s interesting and refreshing here. Not that he’s retired his party songs (Red Solo Cup) and patriotic tributes (Made In America). But there’s a tender maturity, a more reflective depth and mood in Clancy’s Tavern delivered with unquivering vocal strength that – like an empath – has you feeling what he’s saying. This vocally patriotic party boy can have you raising your solo cup, bring you to your knees and take your breath away … all in 11 tracks and 40 minutes.
Clancy’s First Releases Don’t Do the Album Justice
If you were to make a judgment call on Clancy’s Tavern based on its first two shots, you’d not be doing yourself nor the album justice. They’re just not a fair portrayal of the delightfully gorgeous artistry in this album. And that’s a tough statement to make seeing as “Made in America” is shining under the #1 spotlight. And “Red Solo Cup” is probably an unspoken national anthem … from backyard barbeques to frat-house forays, the Red Solo Cup is an American icon. I’m glad the song landed in Toby’s lap. He’s definitely one of the few voices that can believably portray the foolishness of this plastic hell raiser.
As is the case with the album’s lead single “Made in America”, which is not so much a patriotic song as it is a tribute to the American way – honoring who we are, what we have and being responsible for its upkeep – whether it’s tighening one’s values or tightening one’s Craftsman’s wrench. And maybe that’s what Toby did with “Clancy’s Tavern“, tightened things up with his Craftsman’s wrench, because not only did he produce a quality album of artistic brilliance, “Made in America”, a song that seems to be written to his DNA, also broke the Top 10 drought Toby’s been suffering.
Raise Your Red Solos
And you can certainly raise your “Red Solo Cups” at Clancy’s Tavern because this album, even without the four live bonus tracks (deluxe edition), is reminiscent of why Toby’s fans voted “Blue Moon” as a return favorite. You just don’t expect this hard ass party boy to do to a ballad what he can do to a ballad. But “I Need to Hear a Country Song”, the album’s second track, sets the stage for a change in direction as Toby brings it down in mood and melody serenading his pain with “I need to hear a loser crying/songs about a love that’s dying/lying, cheating to the bone/a three chord, stone-cold country song”.
“Clancy’s” title cut written with long-time songwriting partner Scotty Emerick, raises tribute to the tavern Toby’s grandmother owned. Its warm, Celtic back-beat captivates you in this Irish waltz and draws you into a song, a place and a time that’s so lyrically visual you can hear the foam rising to the top of the steins in this pub. This track’s phenomenal storytelling is an ode to where it began for Toby, so rich in detail you practically see Clancy cock her pistol while counting her money at the evening’s close.
“Tryin to Fall in Love” is a snappy tune that takes you mere seconds to follow its upbeat downside trying to win a woman’s love, confessing “if women come a dime a dozen/I ain’t got a penny/some guys are getting way too much/some guys don’t get any”.
“Just Another Sundown” lures you in with its tropical melody tipping you off it’s time to catch your breath and absorb the depth and emotion of this heartache. While the front melody is as soothing as an ocean serenade, the deep drum backbeat compliments the heaviness of the story. The instrumental contrast drives the dark memory of a lost love straight to your heart.
Diversity Continues …
“Beers Ago”, a foot stomping respite from the heaviness of life is so infectious I found myself completely drifting away from the lyric onto the dance floor of my local “I Love This Bar & Grill”. I was having a helluva time mentally when I realized I had to go back and hear the words to this beer drinking marker of life’s events. This one’s absolute sheer enjoyment.
“South of You” starts off with a heavier similarity to Toby’s previous “Who’s That Man” hit single. It’s a strong but tender ballad serenading the wounds of a lover trying to “live his life somewhere south of you.” There’s a recognition in the song’s subtly that we’ve all been through. The emotion’s not laden but it’s sorely recognizable.
And just when you thought you had “Clancy” figured out, Toby delights you with a temptuous Cajun surprise in “Club Zydeco” that is truly one of the album’s strong tracks. It may not see (today’s) country radio but you’ll certainly hit repeat. It’s sultry, seductive and you’re not quite sure why you love it.
Clancy Doesn’t Let you Down
Possibly the album’s most luscious ballad is “I Won’t Let You Down”. This heartfelt serenade seduces every emotion in your body before the first chorus wraps up. Whether it’s the “I ain’t got a pot of gold/girl I ain’t even got a rainbow”, that has every sense on alert and every guard down, or the innocence in this Big Daddy’s “Don’t expect too much from me and I won’t let you down” plea, I dunno. But whatever it is, you’re completely captivated by this lover’s vulnerability.
The main part of the album wraps up with a serene tip to some not so serious “Chill-axin.” It is what you’re thinking … an unexpected twist on words. And a must have on every play list and to do list !
Aged to Perfection – Clancy Serves a Deluxe
If you’ve ordered up the deluxe you’ll continue to be delighted as Toby wraps up an evening at “Clancy’s Tavern” with four live covers from Toby’s 2010 Incognito Bandito show at New York’s Fillmore: Buck Owen’s “Truck Drivin’ Man”; Waylon Jennings “High Time You Quit Your Lowdown Ways; Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” and Johnny Rivers “Memphis.”
Aged to perfection, I’d say at 50, this American sweetheart is just warming up !
If there’s a theme to “Clancy’s Tavern” it’s diversity… vocal, lyrical, musical and mood.
If there’s a question as to whether to add “Clancy’s Tavern” to your collection … don’t hesitate. This one’s a keeper and a fine showcase of this singer-songwriter-performer’s well-rounded talent and personality.
Toby’s added another star to his flag with “Clancy’s Tavern” and this one’s shining brightly !