Album Review: Toby Keith - Clancy's Tavern
By: Matt Bjorke
As one of the few artists to still deliver a new album year after year, Toby Keith has gotten ‘flack’ over the past few years for delivering what some have considered ‘un-even’ album releases. That perception was only enhanced by declining album sales with 2008’s That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy being Toby’s last Gold album (35 Biggest hits, also from 2008, is his last Platinum album). The radio charts haven’t been as nice to Toby either with a dry spell of Top 10 hits running from 2009 to just recently. All of the singles from 2010’s Bullets In the Gun failed to hit the Top 10, for whatever reason. So, with this recent history in mind, how does Toby’s fifteenth album Clancy’s Tavern (not including holiday and greatest hit collections) stand out amongst his body of work? In a word: brilliantly.
The album’s lead single “Made In America” not only broke Toby’s dry spell inside the Top 10 but it also became his 20th #1 hit on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. Some cynics were saying that the Toby only recorded yet another ‘patriotic’ song to get back in radio’s good graces, yet the reality is, “Made In America” isn’t just a good patriotic song, it’s a great song in general and while the tune is patriotic, it’s more of a slice of Americana and a look back at what made America great, the ability to fix things we own, to proudly buy things made in America and to not stand down from good ole American values.
Strong Story Songs Like Clancy's Tavern
The album’s other songs run the gamut of moods and ‘tudes in life from the tear in the beer, honky tonk ballad “I Need To Hear A Country Song,” a song which features a haunting melody backing up lyrics that find Toby declaring the need to hit a ‘swingin’ door saloon’ to hear some classic country songs to help him get over his heartbreak. Meanwhile, the title track, “Clancy’s Tavern,” written with Scotty Emerick, finds Toby singing a story song about the bar which his Grandmother owned. A sweet, irish waltz, the song showcases that Toby Keith still has the ability to write unique, fantastic story songs like “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” (even though that was evidenced by last album’s title track “Bullets In The Gun” too).
“Tryin’ To Fall In Love” and “Just Another Sundown” both show the traditionalist side of Toby Keith with the Waylon-like bassline and sawin’ fiddle of the former leading a fun little story while the latter fetures a slow, moody melody about a lonesome man who still is trying to get over the relationship that was supposed to be forever. “South of You” has another haunting, moody melody which finds Toby singing of a lonesome man yet again. This one’s more mid-tempo but it finds Toby taking a different approach to a ‘beach-y tropical song’.
There Still are Good Time Songs like "Red Solo Cup"
While there are a fair-share of ballads to be found on Clancy’s Tavern, this is still a Toby Keith album so don’t expect 12-13 songs of downers. The previously released “Red Solo Cup,” which has a great video, tells a fun story of the power of the ever-present party cup. The song is the only one not co-written or written by Toby, instead it was written by Warren Beavers, the group of two sets of song writin’ brothers, the Warren Brothers and The Beavers Brothers (Jim and Brett). They also sing on the playful song which features only bass, acoustic guitars, six string banjos and background vocals from the writers. Another good time tune is the Bobby Pinson co-write (one of four) called “Beers Ago.” The song has a progressive melody and it too tells a story of a guy who is reminiscing on the fun times in his life using beers drank as a measurement of time. I can picture a music video for this song and I have a feeling it’ll be a single sometime in the summer of 2012. The breezy, laid-back “Cill-axin’” feels like a potential hit too.
Don't Expect Too Much From Toby and He Won't Let You Down
Speaking of hits, the ballad “I Won’t Let You Down” is a sweet song of an everyman blue-collar singer/songwriter who falls in love and ‘he’s alright with that,’ and he just says “don’t expect too much from me and I won’t let you down.” It’s a message that people really should take to heart with regards to Toby Keith, the artist too. He’s here, as almost all singers are, to entertain us, not to enlighten us but if something enlightening happens to come along, all the better but remember this: don’t expect too much from him and he wont’ let you down, which exactly what happens with Clancy’s Tavern. It’s a strong collection of songs that may be his best album in years (and gets even better with a deluxe edition that pulls four more rare and live Incognito Bandito covers of classics “High Time [You Quit Your Lowdown Ways], “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Shambala,” and “Memphis”).
Album review originally published October 24, 2011.