Toby Keith, Big Dog Daddy

Toby Keith
Big Dog Daddy

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Toby Keith is the best male singer that consistently receives airplay on country radio. It’s really that simple. Sometimes, people only give you credit for being a great singer if you’re also a showy singer, someone who goes for the big note just as the strings swell behind them. Keith’s gift is that he’s a song interpreter, and he uses the many colors of his voice to express emotions that deepen the meaning of the song. As a result, songs that would be ditties become a bit more substantial, and songs that already had depth on paper become works of art.

On the album opener, “High Maintenance Woman”, you can actually hear the wistful distance between the high-maintenance woman and the maintenance man Keith is singing as. He’s cocky and leering during most of the song, as a braggart would be among his male friends, but listen to the nervous shake that enters his voice as he answers the phone to go do a needed repair. For just that one line, “You know the handyman’s waiting and he’ll be right there,” his character reveals his hand. Once contact with the woman of his dreams becomes a reality, he’s excited, terrified, and even a little hopeful that his fantasy might come true. Just by switching his vocal approach for one line, he transforms the character he’s singing as into a three-dimensional human being.

Switching tone immediately, Keith softens his voice to deliver “Love Me if You Can”, a song about a man who claims he is a man of convictions but reveals in the lyrics that he’s more a man of walking contradictions, and Keith’s vocal lacks one single second of conviction. He sings in a high, soft tone that pleads for acceptance, even as he claims that he doesn’t care if you love him or hate him.

As the album continues, his talent as a singer continues to add depth to material that is already pretty strong to begin with. One of the best tracks on the album, “White Rose”, tells the saga of a boarded-up gas station that once was the heart of a small town. His voice is wistful and nostalgic as he looks back in the verses, but righteous anger simmers under the surface as he sings about “plywood for glass, where the windows all got smashed.”

On “Get My Drink On,” he concedes that his woman left because he had it coming, and he’s devoid of emotion, speaking about drinking his problems away in a matter-of-fact manner. He’s not going to think about what he’s done wrong tonight, and might even score with the bartender. By singing in a fast-paced monotone, he communicates the clear-eyed determination of a man with one goal in mind, and he isn’t going to let his conscience get in the way.

Keith is the honky-tonk ringmaster on the title cut, complete with a campy girl group singing back “Big Dog Daddy” to him every time he sings it, full of the arrogant swagger that is completely devoid of the indecisiveness of the senorita-suiting man in the preceding “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya.” He takes the confidence down a few notches till it’s a quiet, knowing one on “I Know She Hung the Moon.” He’s almost amused by the other men checking out his lady. After all, he knows she hung the moon because he’s the one who held the ladder.

After so many songs from women about losing their virginity out under the moonlight, Keith finally gives us the guy’s perspective with “Burnin’ Moonlight”, where he has so much he wants to say after it’s over but “I just buttoned up instead.” The song indicates that he’s still in love with this girl, but isn’t clear whether he’s talking to her or to her memory, which works to the song’s advantage, and Keith doesn’t push it decisively to one conclusion.

By the time you think the album is closing with the bittersweet “Walk it Off”, Keith rocks out one more time with the aggressive “Hit It”, which is a good rave-up, but the album would’ve been more effective with those two tracks switched. That’s a minor criticism, however, of an album that is remarkably consistent. He’s not really an album artist by nature, so his albums tend to be collections of potential singles for radio, but Big Dog Daddy can be listened to all the way through without temptation to change the station. It’s a showcase of a fantastically talented vocalist who is still in his prime.

Buy: Big Dog Daddy

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Toby Keith, Big Dog Daddy

  1. Toby Keith is the best male singer that consistently receives airplay on country radio. It’s really that simple.

    Quite the opener there, Kevin! I don’t agree with the assessment entirely– I think Gary Allan is a vocalist of far superior breadth and range, and older Brooks & Dunn singles would’ve made a strong case for Ronnie Dunn, as well– but it’s an interesting take nonetheless. I’d make the argument that Toby Keith has the most singular, fully-rounded persona of anyone who gets consistent airplay (since radio still isn’t going anywhere near Miranda Lambert, and Dwight Yoakam is years removed from his commercial heyday). Though I don’t think I’ve ever entirely bought one of his ballads, I can say that he writes and performs songs that literally no one else in popular country music could either write or perform, and there’s absolutely something to be said for that. I don’t like Toby Keith or his persona in the least, but I grudgingly respect him. The word “artist” gets thrown around far too liberally, and he’s someone who’s actually earned it.

  2. I would give Gary Allan the edge over Toby, no doubt. I just don’t think he consistently receives airplay on country radio. Seems an uphill battle every time out. Too many great songs that miss the top ten, and he hasn’t had a really big radio hit since “Nothin’ On But the Radio”. I think he’s more popular than country radio gives him credit for. Reminds me of Dwight Yoakam back in the day.

  3. I agree that Gary Allan is more popular than his radio presence would indicate, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the cross-genre influence of Dwight. Dwight had more alternative credibility and notability than Gary. While most of Gary’s singles are still well outside the pop-country realm, his most successful songs do have a sellout flavor; you wouldn’t have heard Dwight release anything like “Tough Little Boys,” and “Nothing on but the Radio” is still blander than most Dwight hits. Dwight’s Hollywood work greatly increased his celebrity, and the trademark dress, dance moves etc. gave him an iconic status that I doubt Gary will attain. Despite positive reviews for “Tough Little Boys” from publications like Rolling Stone, etc., most people outside of the country genre are still likely to ask “who?” when the name Gary Allan is mentioned.

  4. I agree with you, Matt, regarding Dwight’s cross-genre influence. The only comparison I’d make between Dwight and Gary is that at their peak, they still weren’t automatic adds at country radio. You’d be surprised how much Yoakam struggled to get his songs heard. Other than a three-song streak of #2 hits, he had barely any luck at all in the early to mid 1990′s, when his sales were the highest.

  5. Yoakam’s radio stats just generally make my hair hurt. Just two #1 singles, neither of which earns anywhere near the recurrent spins of, say, “Little Sister,” “Guitars, Cadillacs,” or “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” And I’d rank his “The Back of Your Hand” alongside Patty Loveless’ “On Your Way Home” as the most egregious mistakes country radio has made this decade. But, as great as his singles routinely are, he’s definitely one of modern country’s rare album artists– the consistency and the depth of his catalogue are damn near peerless.

    But I definitely get where you were going with the Gary Allan comparison, Kevin.

    It’s interesting to me that, currently, there’s really not such a huge disparity between the sales figures for major radio darlings and some artists who generally struggle with radio airplay. Brad Paisley’s Time Well Wasted had three #1s and a #5 single and still has moved just under 2M units (certainly no small feat these days), and Josh Turner’s Your Man has sold just over 1.8M copies on the strength of two #1s. On the other hand, Big & Rich’s first two albums, and Miranda Lambert’s Kerosene both sold over 1M copies with a lone #11 hit being the highest charting single among them. Lord knows I can’t fathom why, but Taylor Swift’s album is closing in on 1M copies without a top 10 hit. And I’d say Allan’s Tough All Over lands in that company– there’s a much bigger fanbase there than radio stats alone would suggest.

    When you take out the sales figures for artists who’ve made successful crossovers onto pop radio– Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks– there’s really not such a strong linear correlation between radio success and album sales these days. If I were a suit at one of the major labels on Music Row, I’d be asking why that seems to be happening moreso now than even five years ago. Because file-sharing alone can’t account for that trend.

  6. Good call, Jonathan. “The Back of Your Hand” is a stunner, probably the best song in the Yoakam catalog (and one of the only memorable songs from the Population Me album, though the guy’s certainly never made a bad album). Still, I think the difference between Yoakam and Allan is that, even when his songs haven’t done well on the radio charts, he’s always been able to get most of his best material out there, in video, etc. (“Blame the Vain” was #1 on CMT at one point even though radio didn’t touch it). Most of Gary Allan’s best material is familiar only to those who faithfully listen to his albums.

  7. TobyFlattsfan01

    If you can size up what he went through in the media, from his father’s death in 2001 to Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue controversey to the feud with Maines, the delivery on Love Me If You Can matches perfectly with the song. He has gone through a lot in his career and I don’t think Toby is being a walking contradiction in any form.

    As far as Gary Allan goes, I definately thinks he’s an amazing artist that should be recognized more. I actually went and saw him when he opened up for Rascal Flatts last year and he put on a great show. My favorite songs from him would be Man to Man, The One, Man of Me, Smoke Rings in the Dark, and Life Ain’t Always Beautiful.

  8. Emiley PetersonNo Gravatar

    what the hell is wrong with you red kneck jerks ? Toby Keith can make you cry and with a wink of his eye at a live concert feel like he is only singing for you ! his songs make me laugh and make me feel like his songs are all about me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Interesting. I thought Toby Keith was the redneck jerk.

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