Toby Keith

American Ride

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With most contemporary country artists, you could guarantee that a song called "American Ride" would be a slice of jingoism, but Toby Keith isn't like most country singers. His "American Ride" casts a cynical eye at desperate housewives and wannabe pop stars, not celebrating down-home values but wondering where we're all headed on this American Ride at the end of the 2000s, a sentiment not all that far removed form some of Keith's previous social commentary, which makes it a mild surprise that it is the only song here that doesn't come from his own pen. As superb and striking as it is, it's not necessarily a good keystone for the rest of the record, which does have a few tougher numbers that pick up on the lean, mean vibe of 2008's That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy -- "Every Dog Has Its Day," the sly "If I Had One," and the heavy blues stomp "Loaded" -- but spends more time on the softer side, even when he kicks up a bit of dust on the dancefloor on "You Can't Read My Mind" or does a funny, respectful salute to military life on "Ballad of Balad." In other words, the real touchstone for the rest of the record is "Tender as I Wanna Be," where he lets his guard down and lets the romance flow. This doesn't turn American Ride into a schizophrenic jumble, as Keith has always balanced these two extremes, but after spending a little bit more time swaggering than wooing, he's back to crooning and it's amiable and appealing, if not overwhelming.

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