The short version: That’s stupid, Toby.
- Writers: Toby Keith, Bobby Pinson, Reid Shippen
- Rating: 3/10
The long version: Seriously, country music artists – you can stop with these lame jabs at authenticity any day now.
In a year where country artists just can’t resist telling us how country they are, I never thought we’d see Toby Keith hop on the trend. Of course, I say that not because I think he’s above doing that, but because Keith’s name barely registers on anyone’s radar nowadays.
Despite showcasing his talent as a writer and performer every now and then, Keith has settled for mediocrity for the past decade and a half (or perhaps longer), either singing about booze or America with little to differentiate any of his songs. But country music moved on from Keith years ago, and not necessarily for the better.
I don’t know, maybe Keith got tired of other artists profiting from singing about the exact same topics he has for years. But irrelevancy can’t be what’s concerning Keith. After all, he’s got enough money to live off his legacy until the end. With his new single, “That’s Country, Bro,” country music may have forgotten about Keith, but it also shows that he’s out of touch with the current landscape as well.
First, the premise of the title suggests that this song lampoons bro-country, a sub-genre we’re a good five years past, for the record. But there’s nothing in this song to suggest that. To the song’s credit, the song doesn’t even take the same route as other songs in this vein by referencing the “rural lifestyle” to establish any country credentials. Instead, the song randomly lists off a bunch of older artists to basically say how that’s country, and modern country music is not.
So far, the concept sounds intriguing, but again, the song merely lists these legends. There’s no story or ultimate coherent point whatsoever. There’s not even a set order to the list here. Sure, the lists begins with Jimmie Rodgers and ends with ’80s and ’90s acts like George Strait and Randy Travis, but the song is still mostly out of order.
For example, Rodgers’s name rolls into Patsy Cline who rolls into Hank Williams – the cluster usually fits a particular era, but there’s no point to the story whatsoever. Even Keith’s ultimate point is clouded by the fact that many artists listed weren’t even considered as saviors of country music in their time, particularly when we get to the last cluster. Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbit and more all are fantastic artists, but they’re hardly traditional. So then the song begs the question – is Keith’s argument in terms of the sound, or the lifestyle after all? If so, Johnny Cash wasn’t exactly looked upon as a role model in his day. And referencing both Spade Cooley and David Allan Coe might not have been the smartest choice either.
Basically, the song could have said something, especially with Keith’s history and the addition of several obscure names in the song. But this feels more like a great marketing ploy to get people talking about what a stupid song this ultimately is, so hats off to you, Keith.
Age has also not been kind to Keith’s vocals, as beyond just sounding like he’s going through the motions listing through the names, his rich timbre just isn’t what it used to be. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from attempting a weird country-rap cadence during the outro, but by then, what reason do listeners have to keep going with this, anyway?
The production is about the only decent element of this song. The grimier electric guitar and chugging riff drives the track with a ton of momentum. Before the lyrics kick in, you get the feeling that this is actually going to be something awesome. Sadly, it’s not. But it also begs the question of why a song lamenting the current state of country music forgoes traditional instruments like fiddle and steel guitar in favor of this type of sound. Again, I fail to see the passion from Keith anywhere in this.
To reiterate a previous point, “That’s Country, Bro” is merely Keith’s attempt to get people talking about him again, and it worked. Yes, it could have been worse than what the title would suggest, but we shouldn’t have to settle for that with Keith. Personally, I would have rather talked about Keith returning with a great song in the vein of “Who’s That Man” or “Wayman’s Song,” but Keith is going to do whatever he wants to at this point. Sadly, the fans are the only ones who don’t benefit from that at this point.