To say Toby Keith has had a long-standing career in country music would be an understatement. He’s consistently released albums pretty much every year since his self titled debut in 1993. (Fun Fact: 1995, 1998, 2000, 2004, and 2014 are the only years he hasn’t released an album of new material). Even with all the recent releases, Toby Keith still hasn’t had a top-ten single since 2011’s Clancy’s Tavern. Meanwhile Keith doesn’t seem to be too worried, as he’s devoted to writing his own songs and recording music he wants to make. There’s been a natural change within Keith’s song subjects as the years have gone by, and a large number of drinking songs in recent years have deterred some. But with his 18th studio effort, 35 MPH Town, Toby Keith seems to step away a bit from the drinking songs and bring a nice variety of music to his fans.
The album kicks off with the lead single, “Drunk Americans”, a song I heavily criticized in the original single review. It’s a song that I felt tried too hard to be too inclusive with a lazy sounding production. There seemed to be a lack of effort within all areas of the song. “Drunk Americans” is the only song on 35 MPH Town in which Keith did not have a hand in writing. “Good Gets Here” follows and is a typical Toby Keith country rocker. Fast-paced guitar licks accompanied by horns creates a melody that sounds familiar to past Keith hits. The song depicts a self-aware man who knows he’s not quite a catch, but there’s a lady in the bar who finds an interest in him. He says “I’m good for a laugh, good for a beer. Baby, I’m good ’til good gets here.” There’s not much to praise, nor complain about with “Good Gets Here.”
The album’s title track and second single is next. Our review of the song praised Keith for telling a story that’s more age appropriate as opposed to some of his previous singles. While I applaud that sentiment and agree with some of the cultural critiques in the song, I think the song gets a little too “get-off-my-lawn” like with Keith’s critical delivery. “Rum is the Reason” is an island inspired country song with steel drums present throughout, more reminiscent of Jimmy Buffett than many other island inspired country songs from Keith’s counterparts. The song details how leaders of the past drank and couldn’t hold power for too long due to the alcohol. This theory is punctuated with the notion that “rum is the reason pirates never ruled the world.”
“What She Left Behind” is a mid-tempo break up song. Keith describes how the relationship suddenly fell apart, implying that she left as quickly as she could bringing with her only a handful of essentials. But what she left behind from her ring to perfume and old clothes haunt Keith’s mind with painful reminders of what used to be. “What She Left Behind” is one of the stronger tracks on the album, a fair modern country production with good lyrics. “10 Foot Pole” documents another relationship ending, but the resulting feelings are much more sour than sad. Another upbeat country rocker where Keith describes their relationship as fast-moving and wild as Bonnie and Clyde. But after the relationship fell apart, neither of them seem to care where or how the other is doing. Toby Keith continues with heartbreak in “Haggard, Hank & Her.” This slow tempo country ballad is better than the title suggests. The steel guitar is fully present on this traditional country heart-break song: Keith sings of drinking away his sorrows in the bar and how the painful memories combined with old Haggard and Hank songs bring out all his emotions.
I mentioned how “Rum is the Reason” is reminiscent of Jimmy Buffett. Well Toby Keith collaborates with Buffet on “Sailboat for Sale.” This acoustic, breezy song finds both men telling a story of how they got drunk with a sleazy man and ended up trading their fishing boat for a sailboat. The men load the sailboat onto a creek, but with no wind to move them, they just drink in regret of the trade they made. Toby Keith sings another song about meeting women in bars with “Every Time I Drink I Fall in Love.” This upbeat country song finds Keith going home with a woman, but not before warning her that his mouth runs amuck while he’s drunk and will leave in the morning. It’s a song self-aware of its immature recklessness. 35 MPH Town ends with “Beautiful Stranger.” This sentimental love song finds a couple preparing for a night a romance. The song suggests this couple have been together for a while and that it’s been too long since they’ve shared a passionate night. It’s a slow-tempo ballad with an acoustic guitar and violins chiming in on the production. It’s a nice song that feels age appropriate for an older country singer like Toby Keith. “Beautiful Stranger” is set to be Keith’s third single off the album.
35 MPH Town is an album that finds Toby Keith striking a good balance of appealing to modern country fans and continuing to build on what’s made him a successful country singer. Keith is at a point in his career where he can maintain his music and career without needing to sellout. There’s a good mix and combination of country music and its sub genres, and none of the songs, save for the opening track, sound out of place. 35 MPH Town is a good example of an aging country star still moving forward with an album rather than backtracking or going a different direction for extra attention. It may not be the best country album, but you have to give Toby Keith credit for delivering a good variety of songs and styles that fit into his musical niche.