Toby Keith

The Bus Songs

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Toby Keith began publicly using the term "Bus Songs" back in 2003, separating "The Taliban Song" and "Weed with Willie" from the proper album of Shock'n Y'All. Keith called these "Bus Songs" because they were the naughty tunes he and his band sang to each other to pass the time while on tour, and before long the line between the back of the bus and the front of the album started to blur. At times, these ribald tales would be tacked onto the end of the record, but they started to slide into the middle of a song sequence. Soon, it was difficult to discern a Bus Song from a hit single like "Red Solo Cup," so the 2017 appearance of an album dedicated to The Bus Songs doesn't feel quite as revelatory as it may have been a decade earlier. The lack of surprise with The Bus Songs is also due to how it largely comprises old songs, often consisting of previously released versions of songs released between 2003 and 2015. These five familiar recordings are balanced by new studio versions of the Bus Songs from 2006's White Trash with Money, live takes on "Get Out of My Car" and "Weed with Willie," and two brand-new songs: "Shitty Golfer" and "Wacky Tobaccy." Neither of the new tunes are any great shakes -- "Shitty Golfer" recalls Bobby Bare singing Shel Silverstein, "Wacky Tobaccy" plays its wackiness too hard -- but the new take on "Brand New Bow" has a nice soulful groove and "Hell No" shares a similar worn-in vibe. These are good grace notes on an album that winds up showcasing the craft of Keith's writing and the skill of his singing. What's remarkable is that The Bus Songs doesn't feel markedly sillier than a typical Keith record, and that's because of the heartache and wry observations on the margins of the songs, elements that give these purported novelties soul. Maybe The Bus Songs isn't quite as consistent as it could've been, but by this point that's expected from Keith. Instead, it's as messy and complex as any of his post-White Trash with Money records, and it's every bit as enjoyable too.

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