Toby Keith is settling nicely into the role of fun-loving, beer-drinking entertainer. Given the success of 2011’s Gold-certified album, Clancy’s Tavern, and its hugely popular keg party anthem, “Red Solo Cup,” it makes perfect sense for Toby to keep the party-friendly vibe and tallboy-tailored tunes on tap like a good draught. On Toby’s new studio album, Hope On The Rocks, he does just that with 10 songs served up full with odes to beer and women, and a splash of sentimental cowboy country.
While Toby produced the project, and wrote or co-wrote every song himself, nearly half of Hope On The Rocks is made up of drinking songs. The lead single “I Like Girls That Drink Beer” leaves a similar impression as Toby’s 2005 hit, “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” jumping straight into a feel-good chorus about leaving high society behind for a Honky Tonk with a stocked bar. You can keep…your country club that ain’t really country, he sings through the chorus, slyly dropping in a dig aimed at urban cowboys. On “Cold Beer Country,” an optimistic clarinet melody hums over an old-time, bar band sound as the point is made that when it’s, A hundred and ten in the shade/Iced tea won’t cut it and neither will lemonade. Both songs carry the classic Toby Keith sound, where his voice is rich and expressive, and the band’s veteran energy jumps from the track.
Interestingly, while the majority of the project’s drinking songs play like the soundtrack to a good-timin’ Saturday night, the album’s title-track is actually quite melancholy and introverted. Sure, Toby sings in first person as a bartender dishing out the drinks, but his wistful melodies describe a list of clientele fallen on extremely hard times that include suicide, divorce and foreclosure. The album opens on this downtrodden note, which is the polar opposite of the hard-charging road song, “Haven’t Had A Drink All Day,” which roars to life halfway through the album like an inspired meeting of Charlie Daniels, Dwight Yoakam and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Toby does an excellent job on the handful of slower songs that are included. “Haven’t Seen The Last Of You,” built around a beautiful rolling chorus, features the shadow-driven harmonies of Mica Roberts as Toby directs the lonely narrative. On the power ballad, “Missed You Right,” Toby delivers perhaps the album’s most insightful line, singing, I found a woman that makes the mistakes I made make perfect sense, to an old flame that once broke his heart. And on “You Ain’t Alone,” a rootsy Western that closes the record, loneliness drips from the speakers with images of cold coffee and a forgotten nightgown. Toby’s deliveries are strong, coming across like a well-seasoned pro that knows the exact direction he plans to take.
Toby stays true to a few of his classic trademarks on the album. “The Size I Wear,” about a couple of friends out on the prowl, issues the same style of tongue-in-cheek humor as 2005’s “As Good As I Once Was.” And with an amped-up Waylon thump, “Scat Cat” relishes the outlaw life while describing a family of moonshiners with some serious guitar power. “Get Got” also follows the hard country brand with intricate, swampy riffs that set the stage for an old timer leveling with the younger set.
A deluxe version of Hope On The Rocks, which is in stores October 30, will also be available featuring four bonus tracks made up of older material. A hip-hop inspired version of “Red Solo Cup” is on the list, as is a dance club remix of Clancy’s Tavern hit “Beers Ago.” These entertaining extras are a welcome addition for the project, as the ever-prolific Toby serves up a party-focused set on Hope On The Rocks that goes down easy.
Key Tracks – “I Like Girls That Drink Beer, “ “Scat Cat,” “Haven’t Seen The Last Of You,” “You Ain’t Alone”