Toby Keith’s latest compilation album opens with “Shitty Golfer,” an easy strumming ode to being not so great at the popular “sport” that sounds like something Adam Sandler may have improvised for the Happy Gilmore soundtrack. Except he didn’t. If he had, it might have actually been funny. Instead, it’s the sort of passably entertaining outtake you would expect from b-roll in a concert film, the sort of disarming bit of Everyman self-deprecation huge musicians dispense to make you feel comfortable with them as people and not corporate radio hit machines.

The Bus Songs, featuring a few new tunes but mostly re-recorded tracks, is the closest Toby Keith has come to being Jimmy Buffet. It’s a set of laid-back tracks for Cowboy Uncles to blast in the garage while they drink Captain Morgan and regale whoever is in the vicinity with stories of sexual conquest, billiard hall fisticuffs and long, hazy nights filled with booze and ganja. For those who’ve long enjoyed Keith as a reluctant guilty pleasure, like this “Whisky Girl” loving reviewer, it’s a chance to dip a toe into Lake Keith without going for a full swim of thinly veiled xenophobia or red state propaganda.

“Low effort” sounds a cruel simplification, but tracks like “Call a Marine” are little more than future backing for a drunken karaoke performances in shit-kicker bars across the nation. They’re pandering, sure, but plenty effective. Likewise, “Wacky Tobaccy,” a honky tonk stomper every anti-drug advocate should play for teens they want to dissuade from smoking marijuana. Never before has one man put so much effort into making weed sound like a new Bud Light Lime-a-rita flavor in his life, but just try playing it loud and not wanting to shake your hips like George Michael in the “Faith” video.

Despite his bravado, Keith’s got a legit gift for storytelling. When his songs hew closer to sincerity than affable smart-assery, he’s something of a poor man’s Jim Croce. He’s able to paint vivid, if broadly brushed portraits spackled with little oddball details that drag his Walmart country twang kicking and screaming into the halls of charming idiosyncrasy. Take a tune like “Runnin’ Block,” a winning ditty about hooking up with a big woman so Keith’s best friend can get with her slightly less big friend. Outside of the chorus, with its pretty cruel sports metaphor, there’s something likable hidden in Keith’s tale.

Yeah, it’s the same assholish, patriarchal garbage it sounds like, but Keith possesses this weird familiarity that makes his digs half as mean as they might from another artist. The way he sings about being put in a headlock by a large gal in a Motel 6, it’s clear this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, and his “take one for the team” theatrics are a feint. No matter how many records he sells, Toby Keith really sounds like that dude standing in line behind you at Home Depot spinning blatantly false yarns so absurd you’re willing to overlook the farce for the laughs. His music goes down a lot smoother when he’s the butt of the jokes.

Nothing here reaches the highs of his greatest hits, but they’re not meant to. This is an easy-going, throwaway release for the die-hards that’ll please who it’s meant to and befuddle those it’s not. Just give a listen to “The Critic,” which features Keith singing as his broadly drawn caricature of the pencil pushers who lie to their parents about being pianists while panning his albums in their barely read music columns. It’s like Billy Joel ghostwriting a song called “Fake News” for Donald Trump. This is Toby Keith playing to his base and anyone not immediately swayed by his particular brand of braggadocio might still get a little schadenfreude out of the ordeal.

  • Residue

    For every lyrical sequence that mixes nostalgia and trauma with ease, there are countless …
  • Sibyl

    Lively performances almost make up for a perfunctory script. …
  • Criminally Underrated: Too Late

    Remains the greatest entry in the strange milieu of Tarantino knock-off cinema, despite be…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Residue

For every lyrical sequence that mixes nostalgia and trauma with ease, there are countless …