On Shock’n Y’all, his ninth album, Toby Keith doesn’t sound like an Angry American so much as a happy-go-cocky beneficiary of the American dream. In ”Baddest Boots,” he’s got $2,200 custom beauties. The hottest girl in the bar wants him in ”Sweet.” And in ”The Critic,” he dispatches his pencil-necked adversaries with comic lines about how much bigger his income is than theirs.
Keith’s country star has gone nova with a string of hits since 2000, but last year’s Taliban-lashing ”Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” plus a media scrap with the Dixie Chicks, introduced him to the rest of the world as a pugnacious patriot. He is that and much more. ”Shock’n”’s opening single, ”I Love This Bar,” shows off the hard assets Keith brings to country’s squishy landscape, including unprecious traditionalist production and a rolling-thunder voice. The song is an open-armed ode to alcohol and fellowship, with the kind of relaxed, manly melody that made Merle Haggard great. ”Nights I Can’t Remember, Friends I’ll Never Forget” transcends shallow nostalgia with well-drawn character studies of guys growing up — sort of. And ”Boots” is one of the best of Keith’s many swagger songs — a country-rock keeper.
Missteps like the hair-band guitar riffs in ”Whiskey Girl” or the goofball testosterone of ”Sweet” hinder the CD a bit. ”Critic” is merely funny filler. ”The Taliban Song” and ”American Soldier” play, perhaps too neatly, to Keith’s flag-waving partisans. But if you love and miss outlaw country, then you’ve got to admire an album that ends with the guy fetal and stoned (the hilarious ”Weed With Willie”). There are some Music Row decision makers who could use a night out like that.