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Country - Released January 1, 2005 | DreamWorks Nashville

Snicker all you want at Toby Keith's shoutout to his "boys in Afghanistan and Baghdad City" in the chorus of "Honkytonk U" -- Keith may pander, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deliver the goods. And deliver he does on Honkytonk University, his 2005 follow-up to 2003's hit Shock'n Y'all and the second album he's released since 2002's Unleashed made him into a bonafide superstar thanks to its post-9/11 anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)." That song pegged Keith as a right-wing, red-state country singer, but that's not exactly an accurate designation. Not only is he nowhere near as simple as Darryl Worley, but his patriotic posturing was savvy, a good way to endear him to his core audience and broaden his base, all the while being able to keep his country pure, without a trace of pop schmaltz in its arrangements. Honkytonk University, as its title suggests, confirms that Keith is the biggest hardcore country singer this side of Alan Jackson, but where Jackson is a strict traditionalist, Keith is a rowdy modern man, building on the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings and the sound of latter-day Merle Haggard, throwing in traces of Dwight Yoakam along with a keen eye for contemporary life. He takes such time-honored themes as love, broken hearts, and drinking and gives them new life through his sharp details and sense of humor -- best heard on the wonderfully self-depreciating "As Good as I Once Was" and the absurd, over-the-top "You Ain't Leavin' (Thank God Are Ya)" -- and a strong sense of craft. He's been writing good barroom weepers and party tunes for a long time, but here, the love ballads and sad songs are just as good, and there are such nice, breezy changes of pace as "Where You Gonna Go" that recall the best of rolling, folk-influenced country. Indeed, there's a greater variety of sounds and styles on Honkytonk University than many Toby Keith records -- there's honky tonk, to be sure, but that's only the starting point -- and that variety, along with the consistently strong set of original songs (all bearing Keith's writing credits, many co-written by Scotty Emerick), makes this one of his very best records. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released January 1, 2004 | DreamWorks Nashville

Toby Keith's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 picks up where his first hits collection, 1998's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, left off -- in 1999, when Keith signed to DreamWorks. Unfortunately, it doesn't cover everything Keith released between 1999's How Do You Like Me Now?! and Greatest Hits, Vol. 2's release in November 2004. It inexplicably bypasses his 2003 album Shock'n Y'All entirely, which means that number one hits "I Love This Bar," "American Soldier," and "Whiskey Girl" are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are three selections from his first three DreamWorks albums -- How Do You Like Me Now?!, 2001's Pull My Chain, and 2002's Unleashed -- adding three new recordings plus live takes of "You Ain't Much Fun" and "Should've Been a Cowboy," which he originally cut for Mercury. This means this hits collection is far from complete, missing not just Shock'n Y'All, but smaller DreamWorks hits like "When Love Fades," and the new material doesn't quite make up for their absence, even if the straight-ahead "Go With Her" and the carnivalesque "Stays in Mexico" are enjoyable (his update of the James Taylor/Carly Simon duet on Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird," recorded with Krystal, is another matter entirely). So, Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 isn't as comprehensive or accurate as it should have been, but what is here is for the most part enjoyable, and a good way to get for casual fans to get most of his biggest hits of the 2000s in one place. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released November 4, 2003 | DreamWorks Nashville

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Country - Released January 1, 2002 | DreamWorks Nashville

Toby Keith was edging in on superstardom prior to the release of Unleashed -- he appeared on a national long-distance telephone commercial, after all -- but this was the record that made him a household name, thanks to the opening track "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" and the media-created controversy surrounding its release. The rabble-rousing, obstinate flip-side to Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" -- essentially, a 9-11 song for those who thought Jackson's heartbroken confusion was for pansies, but weren't redneck enough to embrace Charlie Daniels' "That Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" or "The Last Fallen Hero" -- "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" is, as its subtitle suggests, filled with anger, telling the terrorists (whose "suckerpunch came flying in from somewhere in the back," a rhyme so tantalizingly close to "somewhere in Iraq," you will yourself to hear it every time it plays) that they'll "get a boot in their ass, it's the American way." Keith was scheduled to sing this on an ABC special on the fourth of July (not too coincidentally mentioned in the song), when apparently Peter Jennings objected to the tone of the song and asked the network to rescind the singer's invitation, which then lead to reams of print and countless TV appearances that effectively sold Unleashed before it hit the stores. As it turns out, "Courtesy" is a bit misleading of a lead single, as is the title, since most of this album is hardly tough macho posturing. Sure, there's some of it -- such as the absurdly anthemic "Beer for My Horses," a duet with Willie Nelson where the two of them hunt down modern day gangsters like cowboys, then drink to their accomplishments -- but most of this album is tuneful singer/songwriterism, particularly on the second side, where this album really takes off with a series of rolling, melodic, acoustic-based songs that truly demonstrate that Keith can be a sturdy, memorable songwriter. True, he does descend into cloying cuteness on occasion ("Huckleberry"), but the stretch of songs from "It Works for Me" through "That's Not How It Is" that ends the record is among his finest, and they're balanced by a couple of good moments from the first side (the silly fun of "Good to Go to Mexico," "Losing My Touch") and, of course, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." That song may mischaracterize what's on Unleashed, but those who are brought in by that slice of flag-waving jingoism should be pleased by the sweeter fare here since, ultimately, it proves to be more substantive. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released August 10, 2001 | DreamWorks Nashville