With the far right in a bit of a slump, the time is ripe for pacifist country fans to make peace with superpatriot Toby Keith, an occasionally great singles artist with whom I for one continue to disagree on matters of foreign policy and beard length. The string of singles from Keith's excellent Honkytonk U started inauspiciously with the title track, a cocky autobiographical statement-of-purpose performed very much in the style of Waylon Jennings. Cocky autobiographical statements-of-purpose generally shouldn't owe an obvious debt to someone else for the same reason that heartfelt love letters shouldn't be ghostwritten. The follow-up singles, though, have been his best since 9/11. "As Good As I Once Was," a tuneful late-August-of-my-years romp performed very much in the style of the Mavericks, has Keith falling into barroom scuffles with rotund motorcycle enthusiasts and threesomes with cowboy-loving sisters. "I'm not as good as I once was," he tells the gals (twins, naturally), "but I'm as good--once--as I ever was." Nasty country hits really turn me on, as do Fender guitars, also heard here. Keith's new single, "Big Blue Note," is a rather blue-note-free toe tapper about getting caught unawares by a Dear John letter. The happy/sad juxtaposition is clever, though by the end the singer's mood is clearly in line with the tune's elfin melody and giggling rhythm. Nice recovery, Tob!
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