Toby Keith

Big Dog Daddy

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After becoming a bona fide superstar in the wake of "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue," Toby Keith refused to play it safe, blowing up his persona to mythic heights on 2003's Shock'n Y'All, stretching his musical legs on Honkytonk University, and calling off all bets with the Lari White-produced White Trash with Money, where he got soulful and soft in equal measures. After that trilogy of exploration, Keith snaps back to the basics on Big Dog Daddy, his first self-produced album and his first album of nothing but pure, hardcore country since his star rose in the early years of the new millennium. This isn't a retreat as much as it's a reaffirmation of his strengths as a singer, songwriter, performer, and interpreter. Indeed, two of the highlights here are covers of Craig Wiseman's sighing "Love Me If You Can" and Fred Eaglesmith's "White Rose," a warm, bittersweet slice of nostalgia that highlights how Keith really tells a story when he sings. But if these, along with a handful of Keith originals, highlight his often overlooked sensitive side -- love songs rarely come as sweet as "I Know She Hung the Moon," heartbreak songs are rarely as aching as "Walk It Off" -- this album swings and swaggers as much as the title boasts. There's the galloping "Get My Drink On," the old-time rock & roll title track (Chuck Berry turned into country-rock via Bob Seger), and the irresistible Bobby Pinson collaboration "Pump Jack," and Keith finds the middle ground between these extremes with the remarkable "Wouldn't Want to Be Ya," which turns a cliché inside out, rendering it remarkably affecting. And that's the real secret to Keith's success: underneath all the bragging he's a songwriter and a damn good one at that, which this lean, sinewy, stripped-to-the-basics record makes clear.

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