After fulfilling his duties as bartender on last year’s Hope On The Rocks, Toby Keith pulls up a stool on his new album to swap a few stories. Drinks After Work, which will be available October 29, ranges from sentimental nostalgia and character-driven narratives to lighthearted laughs and a little drama while consistently sounding like an entertaining happy hour at your favorite pub.
Toby wrote nine of the album’s 10 songs in addition to serving as the project’s producer, and though the swamp-stomp opener “Shut Up And Hold On” immediately calls for shots of Jack, this album is more about the conversation than the beer list. Songs like the casual lead single “Drinks After Work,” featuring an electric neon melody totally new to Toby’s repertoire, and the R&B-tinged “Little Miss Tear Stain” come off with a friendly delivery and a born storyteller’s knack for capturing the moment. Could we ever get back together?, he asks on the latter before adding slyly, Or is never still a good time to call?
Toby is one of country music’s most prolific writers and the man most certainly knows what works for his audience. “Before We Knew They Were Good” speaks to the classic sense of youthful nostalgia found in hits like 2011’s “Beers Ago” while the roadhouse “Show Me What You’re Working With” delivers buzzed lines with astounding ease. However, as heard in the title track, Toby’s overall sound evolves on Drinks After Work with a vast array of new and different tones. The workingman “Hard Way To Make An Easy Living” gives tribute to farmers with echoing star-filled guitar as the miss-her-badly “Whole Lot More Than That” struts to some front porch blues similar to Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck.” One of the project’s most striking songs, the power ballad “The Other Side Of Him,” blends high plains drama with epic orchestration and a bittersweet piano melody when detailing the hurt that goes with seeing an ex with her new man.
Though Drinks After Work includes a few contemporary trends like back road plot lines and hip hop influences in “Shut Up And Hold On,” Toby is at his best when turning phrases and showing off a quick wit. The luckless story song “I’ll Probably Be Out Fishin’” sails to an island-inspired groove with an easy come, easy go feel and the mythology surrounding the “Last Living Cowboy” is powered by old-time fiddle, dobro and banjo. He ain’t rode off into the sunset yet, naw/he’s still kickin’ ‘round, Toby sings with a wink.
A deluxe version of Drinks After Work is available with a set of songs much greater than their “Bonus” designation allows. While the Jimmy Buffett cover “Margaritaville” featuring good friend Sammy Hagar is fun, the ragtime “Call A Marine” and deeply powerful “Chuckie’s Gone” might be the best songs on the entire set. In particular, “Chuckie’s Gone,” written in memory of Toby’s bandleader and bassist Chuck Goff, is meaningful and emotional. Stage goes up, stage goes down…and you’ll always be a song away, he sings with a heavy heart. However, the conversation tends to stay lighthearted on this project with a comfortable ease like catching up with friends for Drinks After Work.
Key Tracks – “Drinks After Work,” “Hard Way To Make An Easy Living,” “Call A Marine” (bonus track), “Chuckie’s Gone” (bonus track)