Toby Keith

Toby Keith

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On the cover of his eponymous 1993 debut, Toby Keith doesn't quite look like the big, swaggering dog that became a superstar roughly seven years later -- he's too thin, his shirt too crisp, his mullet too drastic, his smile too eager -- but image isn't everything. Underneath that cover, it sure is possible to hear the roots of modern Toby Keith on this appealing debut. It is given a production that's a bit too big, clean, glossy and cavernous for Keith's good -- it fits the outsized sound of early-'90s radio, but not his outsized talent -- but beneath that sheen the songs are very strong. He wrote all but two here -- the cheerfully swinging "Some Kinda Good Kinda Hold on Me" and the very good "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action," which winningly echoes the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," aren't his -- and he's already showing considerable range as a writer, already revealing his wry sense of humor on "Close But No Guitar" and expertly playing of Western mythology on "Should've Been a Cowboy" which was his deserved breakthrough. But if that song, combined with his latter macho stance, suggests that he was always all outlaw, most of Toby Keith is surprisingly within poppier territory, as "Ain't No Thang," "He Ain't Worth Missing" and "Wish I Didn't Know Now" all bear influences from Ronnie Milsap. He'd later develop this influence, blending it to a rowdier stance that became his signature, but looking back on this debut it's clear that Keith was a writer and singer of considerable skill even at the outset of his career.

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