Album Review – Toby Keith’s ’35 MPH Town’

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.

Grade: 6/10

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Album Review – Toby Keith’s ’35 MPH Town’

  1. Josh Schott October 23, 2015 / 12:10 pm

    I haven’t had a chance to give this a full listen yet, but I did give the new single “Beautiful Stranger” a listen and I was surprised how much I liked it. Probably the first single I’ve enjoyed from Keith in several years. Glad he’s going back to writing his own music. That’s usually the biggest problem when an artists gets big: they forget how to make music basically. If he can recapture his early years, he’ll get my respect again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin October 23, 2015 / 12:23 pm

      Indeed I was surprised how much I liked the album. The ballads and sentimental heartbreak songs stood out for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Zack October 23, 2015 / 2:41 pm

    I personally found “Good Gets Here” and “Rum Is The Reason” cringe inducing. The former feels like a rehash of “Good As I Once Was”, only creepier. I mean, Toby will suffice until another guy comes along? Are we to believe that the woman in question is only interested in one thing? It’s just more objectifying of women in country music, just with slightly different lyrics. I have to admit it’s catchy as all hell, but that part bothers me.

    “Rum Is The Reason” wasn’t atrocious until the references to Hitler and Stalin came into play. If you want to make a funny, feel-good song fine. But referencing men like that makes this cease to be funny.

    “Drunk Americans” sucked a year ago and it still sucks now. “35 mph Town” I can appreciate at least for the emotion that Toby delivers in it. I truly feel like he’s invested in this song.

    Honestly, aside from the title track, I thought this album was really bad…….at least until I got to the rest of it, then it admittedly got better. As you noted, “What She Left Behind” is actually a good song. Feels good to see this side of Toby again. That side shows itself again on “Haggard, Hank and Her”, and “Beautiful Stranger” which I felt were really strong and more indicative of his earlier stuff. “Ten Foot Pole” was a tad stupid, but it’s also catchy as all hell like “Good Gets Here” was. The good thing about this song is that I can enjoy for what it is unlike GGH. “Sailboat For Sale” also wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. “Every Time I Drink I Fall In Love” is sort of stupid, and really is just another Toby filler track about beer.

    Overall, I’d give it like a light 5.5/10

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    • Derek Hudgin October 23, 2015 / 4:08 pm

      I didn’t find much of an issue with “Good Gets Here.” I mean, it’s immature and a little objectifying, but Keith does seem to imply in the lyrics that she’s giving him a look of interest. I didn’t get the impression that Toby Keith just inserts himself into this woman’s life because he was attracted to her. It’s a step above Cole Swindell.

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      • Zack October 23, 2015 / 5:32 pm

        Well yeah, better than Cole Swindell, but that doesn’t excuse anything. Not understanding the farfetched comparison. It’s still immature.

        Don’t mean to start an argument, I think your assessment was great overall, just had a few disagreements 🙂

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  3. NoahHibiscusEaton October 23, 2015 / 4:11 pm

    Meh, this album’s better than “Drinks After Work”, but I’d have to agree with Zack that this would rate in the lower half of albums from best to worst. Overall, it just didn’t impress me much.

    “Beautiful Stranger” was the clear standout to me. Easily among the best singular tracks he has cut in the latter half of his career. “What She Left Behind” was decent as well, and I did enjoy listening to “10 Foot Pole”.

    *

    Outside of those three tracks, however, “35 MPH Town” feels and sounds stale and unremarkable across the board.

    Zack’s right about “Good Gets Here”. On paper, it isn’t quite as creepy lyrically as, say, Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night To End” where the narrator solicits a woman on the side of the road for a ride and says: “I’m so glad you trusted me!”. But for as much charisma as Keith has, sometimes it winds up working against his favor and make him come across like Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast”, and that’s exactly what happens as he argues life is short so why not hit the hay with me while the search for Mister Right is still on. Uggghhh! And I don’t care how pure his and his co-writer’s intentions were in penning “Rum Is The Reason”: not only was it tasteless to cite Hitler and Stalin in the framing of this type of song, it’s historically inaccurate. Hitler abstained from alcohol entirely while Stalin, despite acknowledging consuming libations at one time, lamented it later and is believed to have gone sober too.

    “Drunk Americans”, like I said before, was a lackadaisical attempt at rehashing the populist swell of “I Love This Bar” with disingenuous lyrics that betray the reality of our cultural divide. “35 MPH Town” deserves a little credit for at least trying to tackle a headier topic, but the dour, anti-populist tone and framing as well as overly pedestrian production wound up undermining it.

    Once again, too many songs revolve around the “Drinking is the solution as well as suspect to all of life’s problems!” motif. Coming on the heels of Alan Jackson’s “Jim & Jack & Hank” especially, “Haggard, Hank & Her” comes across lyrically boilerplate despite the competent production. And “Every Time I Drink I Fall In Love” is an instantly forgettable ditty that unfortunately conflates alcohol and infatuation like way too many songs unfortunately resort to.

    “Sailboat For Sale” was alright. Going into it, I thought the lyrics would be the most unremarkable aspect of it, but it actually tells a sort of funny story with enough descriptive detail to help it stand out. No, the lyrics are actually the strongest link here. It is the tepid production that keeps it at a pleasantly passable status.

    All in all, again this is a step up from the dull “Drinks After Work”, but I wouldn’t consider this album good or even remarkable either. I’m thinking à Strong 4 to Light 5 here.

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  4. John rush October 23, 2015 / 6:06 pm

    I’ve been a big Toby fan since 2004 and have every album to date with Clancy tavern my favourite. 35mph town is a good album and I love the majority of tracks. You can’t please everyone Toby but for me you still have it musically. I love country and Toby Keith is country music at its best. You can’t be a true critic of Toby Keith’s music unless you’re a true fan like myself. 35mph town scores 8/10.

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  5. Cobra October 23, 2015 / 6:10 pm

    I’ve said it before but I stopped being a Keith fan after “Greatest Hits Vol. 1.” That collection basically summed up the strong portion of Keith’s career. Once he started what many call the “How Do You Like Me Now” era of his career, it was largely about how brash and boisterous he could be.

    That being said, he’s still had a few singles sprinkled here and there that have been worth listening to. I do like the title track of the new album, but at this point, it’s kind of difficult for me to find the time to listen to a full album worth of Ketih’s material. There’s too much else out there worth spending time on, as far as I’m concerned.
    .
    I’ll take the time to listen to a few of the tracks you recommended, but I won’t be investing time or money into this whole album.

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