Toby Keith really is a throwback to a different time, a time when artists came into their own after kicking around for a while, a time when the most popular artists were also restlessly creative. In other words, he hearkens back to the heyday of outlaw country, when Willie and Waylon were making their own way with records that sounded different each time out, a claim that certainly can be made with every record Keith released in the 2000s. With White Trash with Money, he tops himself, delivering not only his fifth excellent album in a row, but his riskiest, richest record yet. For this, his tenth studio album, Keith teams up with country renegade singer/songwriter Lari White, an underappreciated country singer/songwriter who made a shift toward country-soul on her 2004 album Green Eyed Soul. It's an unusual choice in many respects. First, it's a surprise that Keith has parted ways with producer James Stroud, who has been co-producing his records since 1997's Dream Walkin', but it's also a surprise because White isn't known for her productions, and her albums don't necessarily seem like kindred spirits with the swaggering, macho Keith. But surprises can sometimes be exactly right, and White Trash with Money is pretty damn near perfect, a testament to Keith's often underappreciated versatility and his songwriting skill.
White eases Keith into new sonic territory, somewhat related to Green Eyed Soul but never far removed from the loose-limbed neo-outlaw country Keith has been mining since the turn of the millennium. By working with White, Keith has added just enough new colors to his palette to let listeners truly appreciate the range in his music. That slight yet significant shift in tone is immediately evident, as the album kicks off with the rowdy, horn-driven "Get Drunk and Be Somebody." With its soulful strut, it recalls White's work, but the album shift gears before it can get pigeonholed, with "A Little Too Late" recalling both lush Nashville country-pop productions and Dwight Yoakam's classicist spin on the same sound, and "Can't Buy You Money" bringing to mind a straight-ahead version of Bobbie Joe Gentry's neo-gothic masterpiece "An Ode to Billie Joe." Soon, the changes in mood settle down, and a spare, muscular version of Keith's country dominates the album, but the music is more robust than it was even on Honkytonk University; there are little flourishes, from soulful organs and guitars, that make these songs full-bodied. This variety brings life to what very well may be Keith's best set of songs. Like Honkytonk University, White Trash with Money lacks the ornery patriotism of the post-9/11 work that brought him fame and it keeps the focus on the basics: love, drinking, heartbreak, forgotten anniversaries, tequila, family, and happiness. Keith's humor is out in full force, and not just on the three new "Bus Session" songs that conclude the record. He's loose and limber, bringing a big heart to these tunes, and to the album as a whole. This is an addictive record, enveloping in its sound and memorable in its songs, and it's proof positive that there has been no other country artist as risky, rich, or consistent as Toby Keith this decade.