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.