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Building his creative muscles

April 09, 2006|Randy Lewis

Toby Keith

"White Trash With Money" (Show Dog Nashville)

** 1/2

TOBY KEITH is more a beer than a wine kind of guy, but as time goes by he's showing one thing in common with the fruit of the vine: He's getting better with age.

In last year's "Honkytonk University" album, the beefy Oklahoma singer and songwriter left behind a lot of the chest-thumping posturing that made him one of country's biggest stars. With his first album for his own record label (in stores Tuesday), Keith moves deeper into the genuinely human side of life, and the rewards tend to be on the same modest scale as most of the scenarios he explores in these dozen songs.

"Grain of Salt" is the touchstone for longtime fans, an alcohol-drenched kiss-off rocker buoyed by his skilled wordplay, which too often in the past had been sublimated to his macho growling. That facility with language is at the forefront of "A Little Too Much," whose musical charm is muted by a little too much orchestration harking back to Nashville's "countrypolitan" period of the '60s and '70s. "Note to Self" is a sympathetic exercise in taking responsibility for his role in an unhappily-ever-after tale of romance.

Keith is flexing creative muscles that hadn't gotten a lot of use before last year, so even though the results here are inconsistent, it feels like a prelude to something truly memorable.

*

Randy Lewis

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