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Toby Keith

Ten-gallon hats off to Toby Keith. As the number-one ticket in America, the oil-riggin' good ol' boy-cum-new country badass has actualized the great American dream. He was well on his way to solidifying himself as country's plain-talkin' top dog even before his less-than-sensitive "Angry American" response to 9/11 kicked up gobs of publicity. Don't think for a minute that this just plays to hayseeds in Peoria; folks adore Keith's redneck-with-a-cause shtick from sea to shining sea.

Not surprisingly, Shock'n Y'all (a near homonym to Dubya's "Shock and Awe" campaign) brims with Middle American chest-beating anthems. The record's juke-ready themes of bedding whiskey-drinking sweethearts, loving Jesus, and bombing the shit out of the Taliban are sure to dominate country charts for the next six months. Though it's a far cry from the clever pop country ditties of Garth Brooks, the record does not want for occasionally snarky punch lines ("The Critic") or beer-swigging choruses ("I Love This Bar"). But where Shock'n Y'all ultimately bombs is in Keith's utter lack of subtlety. Every track is populated by cartoonishly simple characters and two-dimensional sentiments, all painted with the broad strokes of Keith's thickheaded values.

Ultimately, it's not the Saturday night at the bar/Sunday morning at church routine that's so bothersome -- C&W and R&B have both beautifully toed that dichotomy for generations. It's that every one of Keith's statements is barbed with the judgmental edge of that dang Angry (Scary?) American. It's a pretty ugly picture.


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