There’s no denying, Toby Keith has been gifted with the ability to write quality songs, produce outstanding albums and headline mind-blowing tours. His powerful pipes can raise the party anthem roof if need be or bring you to your reflective knees. With a discography of some 16 albums, this singer-songwriter-performer-producer craft is well documented time after time.
Has he done it again on October 30th with the release of his 16th Studio Album “Hope On The Rocks”?
Often times an artist will cut an album that “defines” him. Toby would probably best be defined as a patriotic party animal. And I’d have to agree. But don’t underestimate the depth and strength of his baritone ballads.
Clancy’s Closure . . .
As Toby closed Clancy’s Tavern and wrapped up his “Live in Overdrive” Tour, a sort of sad nostalgia came over me. Although the tour supporting “Clancy’s Tavern” was seriously second to none, it was one of those things I just didn’t want to see end … the tour or the album.
I suppose for me “Clancy’s Tavern” defined Toby in a strange sort of way.
My hope was that “Hope on the Rocks” would make it a double.
Now Serving Hope . . .
Continuing with his beer drinking party pleasers, “I Like Girls That Drink Beer” leads off as the album’s first single. Toasting notes of sarcasm to his significant other, the singer wastes no time and spares no mercy announcing he’s hightailing it from her upscale life. It’s as infectious as his previous beer-drinking party songs and from the looks of things, just as successful.
But I’m seriously in awe that Toby can keep pulling off these successful party songs, time after time. I mean, every now and then an artist might be lucky enough to “write one of those” or to “find one of those to sing”. But for Toby Keith, the beer-drinking party anthems are 100 proof organic and all natural.
But I Need a Mindbender and He’s the Bartender so . . .
“Hope on the Rocks”, the song, is definitely the strong shot you were expecting. Sung from the bartender’s perspective, “Hope” shares the depiction of downtrodden tales one hears and sees from behind the tap. Delivered with the depth, strength and clarity as a shot of Mezcal, “Hope” is a sultry surprise, rich in story, vocals and mood.
And like any good friend, this bartender doesn’t leave you drowning in the memory of your sorrows too long. “The Size I Wear”, chases Hope’s burn. It’s a raucous wise-cracking pick-me-up sure to have you toe-tapping, knee-slapping and singing along. And after the creamy, rich “Hope” ballad, you definitely need this pick me up.
“Scat Cat” starts out immediately grabbing you. Its infectious melody has you grooving along without paying attention to what the song’s even about. And okay, I’ll confess. I have no idea what Scat Cat means, even after some, um, ten listens. Finally conceding it must be some sort of southern expression that might slip by a Bostonian, I decided to add “Scat Cat” to my playlist of awesome favorites that I have no idea what they’re about. (and feel free to fill me in here – comments welcome below on this) In fact, I decided to agree with Toby that “sometimes you’ll get it, sometimes you’ll get got”.
“Get Got” comes rolling in strong and heavy like the thunderous Ford F-150 openings Toby’s concerts are known for. It’s got a good grip on your attention before you’ve even heard a word. Tune in to this one. It’s lyrical wordplay that’s tapped the wise man for wisdom.
Halfway ‘Til Closing …
Halfway ’til closing, you certainly can’t claim you “Haven’t Had a Drink All Day”, but that’s exactly what the next track suggests. It’s an uptempo pick-me-up with a fun lyrical twist at the end.
Toby drops it down again in “Haven’t Seen The Last of You” and acquiesces that although she’s gone, it ain’t over. While he’s having trouble wrapping his head around that notion, his creamy vocals blend with the harmonies of Show Dog-Universal Music artist Mica Roberts to wrap you around the whole thing.
Slinging it back to a western barroom jazzy blues sound, “Cold Beer Country” suggests :
“it’s so dang hot you wanna sit around naked // ain’t rained one drop, ain’t gonna I reckon”. Further lamenting “when it’s a hundred and ten in the shade // iced tea won’t cut and neither will lemonade . . . I need a cold Budweiser on a barstool and a jukebox balladeer // ‘cos it’s cold beer country ’round here.
Last Call . . .
The standard version of the album wraps up last call with two delicious ballads. “Missed You Just Right” is an uplifting confession sounding a little musically reminiscent of “Who’s That Man”. It’s a tender tale delivered with elegance and charm.
Written with longtime friend and songwriter, Scotty Emerick, “You Ain’t Alone” lyrically, vocally and musically takes top honors. It’s a breath-taking story so lyrically visual you can feel the breadth of sadness in the air around you. Stellar !
The Encore . . .
If you’ve ordered up the Deluxe Edition of “Hope On The Rocks” your time winds down listening to a remix of “Red Solo Cup” and “Beers Ago” and LIVE versions of “Whiskey Girl” and “Get Out of My Car”.
In My Opinion . . .
I’m personally a big fan of Toby’s ballads. The man has a set of rich, baritone vocals that brings you to your knees. But if you’ve got life on your mind and need a pick-me-up, he’s serving a fine mix of those too. Maybe that’s why he’s titled this album “Hope on the Rocks”, it’s got what you need.
Toby wrote or co-wrote all ten tracks and produced the album. “Hope” released a little over a month after “Clancy’s Tavern” closed out the Live in Overdrive Tour. And if you had the smarts to snag tickets to that tour, you gotta wonder, where the hell did Toby find time to pull of the excellence of the Live in Overdrive Tour, write, record and produce “Hope on the Rocks”.
It ain’t Clancy’s Tavern but “Hope on the Rocks” ain’t watered down.