Hope on the Rocks by Toby Keith
With the exception of guilty pleasures such as “Red Solo Cup”—which will never be mistaken for high art—there has been a distinct maturity to Toby Keith’s recorded material since 2009’s American Ride. He continues that evolution on his latest, Hope on the Rocks, a 10-track collection of Countrypolitan ballads, roadhouse boogies and woozy Dixieland jazz.
Yes, Toby still submits to the desires of his inner teen at times, reveling in phrases like “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” but dig deeper and even that first single reveals more than its humorous title might suggest.
That said, there is nothing funny about Hope on the Rocks’ opening title track. Told from the point of view of a bartender who administers liquid relief to the downtrodden, the sweeping ballad is the perfect vehicle for Toby’s well-aged voice. At the end of the day / I’m all they’ve got / Hope on the rocks, he sings—and few other male vocalists can so convincingly sell that promise.
He’s equally on point during the haunting “Haven’t Seen the Last of You” and the midnight shuffle “You Ain’t Alone.” But “maturing” doesn’t equal “mellowing,” and Toby can still cut loose, inspired no doubt by the freedom he has discovered in performing with his Incognito Bandito bar band.
The rollicking “Haven’t Had a Drink All Day” recalls Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road,” while the tongue-twisting “Get Got” is steeped in wordplay.
It’s “Cold Beer Country,” however, that ties it all together: Bocephus-like clarinets, old-timey lyrics and Toby’s smooth-as-whiskey delivery assure purists that there is still Hope for classic barroom singalongs.