Toby Keith

35 MPH Town

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"Drunk Americans," the first single from Toby Keith's 18th studio album, appeared in October 2014 but the accompanying 35 MPH Town didn't show up until a year later, a good indication that the single didn't perform as well as expected. Despite its alcoholic title -- something of a tradition for Keith in the new millennium, where all seven singles subsequent to 2011's "Red Solo Cup" bar one have booze on the brain -- "Drunk Americans" did suggest Keith was looking to break away from the slight electronic sheen of 2013's Drinks After Work, as it was the work of songwriters Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Bob DiPiero, a trio who represented a post-bro country vanguard. Perhaps if it had risen into the Country Top 20, more of 35 MPH Town would've been aligned with this new Nashville, but as it panned out, Keith went back to the tried and true, crafting songs that fall within his wheelhouse. At the edges, there are some signs of either experimentation or, perhaps, desperation: "Rum Is the Reason" follows the cadences of Zac Brown Band's breezy classic "Toes" (the lord of the beach himself, Jimmy Buffett, shows up on "Sailboat for Sale"), "10 Foot Pole" bounces along to horns so compressed they sound synthesized, the title track's ode to Middle America is a bit on the nose, and the closing "Beautiful Stranger" veers close to mawkish adult contemporary. All of this winds up as mere flair on another reliable record, one where the ballads "What She Left Behind" and "Haggard, Hank & Her" just edge out the livelier "Good Gets Here" and "Every Time I Drink I Fall in Love," songs that serve as welcome showcases for his sly humor. Moments like these -- moments when it feels as if Keith still likes laying back and kicking a few tunes out, not caring about where they may place on the charts -- are what make 35 MPH Town worth a spin.

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