Big Dog Daddy
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