Drinking is really fun! Although sometimes it's sad! That's the predominant message of Toby Keith's "35 mph Town," an album that occasionally runs into a decent song despite its determination to tick off every conceivable country music cliche.
In the opening "Drunk Americans," a rainbow coalition walks into a bar to get sloshed and sing along; shimmering chimes surround the cornball-ballad chorus of "Beautiful Stranger" (". . . in my heart"); Jimmy Buffett-style steel drums open "Rum Is the Reason," which, not surprisingly, is about pirates; and veteran singer-songwriter Buffett himself shows up for the sub-"Son of a Son of a Sailor" duet "Sailboat for Sale."
But Keith, the veteran country star whose career took off after he reflected a certain kind of post-9/11 angst with 2002's smash "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," is a fine songwriter when he wants to be. The details ("she took her $10 sand-dollar necklace") in "What She Left Behind" and the poetic country-history references in ("nobody kills me like . . .") "Haggard, Hank & Her" come alive in Keith's easygoing baritone. And it's hard for most stars to achieve the full-on rock and roll spirit of "Good Gets Here" and "10 Foot Pole," but the singer manages it, even if he doesn't do much with the lyrics.PhotosSam Hunt and more country music heartthrobsPhotosCountry singers who have died since 1989Photos25 best albums of 2015