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Toby Keith - Honkytonk University
Album review by: Cheryl Harvey Hill

It is a noticeably less raucous, but still intense, Toby Keith who delivers the music on Honkytonk University; his thirteenth album. The first time I ever heard him sing, the very first thing that caught my attention about Keith was the wonderful vibrato in his voice and as I sat and listened to the first run through of this album, I was happy to hear that familiar tremble once again.

I think this album reflects a mellower, possibly more mature, Keith. This is a much more likeable fellow than his previous incarnation which willfully stood toe to toe in a knock-down-drag-out with those he considered foes. No need to be "Shock 'n Y'all," the title of his previous album which went quadruple platinum, when you've made your point. His previous album allowed him to vent, poke fun at his critics and prod those who disagreed with him but it also took him back to the top of the charts, kept him in the spotlight and gave him a forum for the causes he holds dear. I think this album suggests that the process refined him, and since success has clearly validated him, he is now free to do what he does best; entertain. 

The album kicks off with "Honkytonk U," a song that Keith says was inspired by his own life and it is one of the two songs on this album written solely by him -- kudos to Scotty Emerick who wrote on nine of the other twelve songs on this album. Although the lyrics may reflect his personal story, the music on this song is marvelously influenced by the legendary Waylon Jennings, and significantly rendered, since some of Jennings ' former band members sat in on the recording session.

I love it when Toby sings from his heart, hits those higher notes, and holds them longer. For the aforementioned reasons, I would probably pick "Knock Yourself Out," "Your Smile," "You Caught Me at a Bad Time," and "Where You Gonna Go" as a few of my favorite songs on this album and whenever Keith pairs up with Chuck Cannon to write; well, you can count on a great song so it came as no surprise to me when I looked at the liner notes and saw they had written "I Got It Bad" together.

Keith says he was able to fulfill another duet dream when he joined forces with Merle Haggard to deliver "She Ain't Hooked on Me No More." Their voices make for an enjoyable blend and if songs like this one can get Haggard back on radio, I'm all for it. This song is a pleasant bonus on what was already a great album.

The twelve songs on this album are reflective of a more insightful, kinder and more genteel Keith. I, for one, like this persona the best but for those of you who like the rowdy, in-your-face Keith; let me assure you that his brash side is never too far away. A residual haughtiness comes to the fore when Keith sings "As Good As I Once Was," a philosophical Keith sings on "Big Blue Note," and even great vocals and incredible instrumentals can't camouflage the hint of arrogance in the lyrics of "Just the Guy to Do It." All in all, I'd say that Keith's education via the school of hard knocks has been a success and he has more than earned his degree from " Honkytonk U. "

A star can't burn forever, and the brightest ones will someday lose their shine / But the glass won't ever be half empty in my optimistic mind / I'll still have a song to sing and a band to turn it up and play it loud / As long as there's a bar room with a corner stage and a honkytonk crowd. Lyrics from " Honkytonk U. "

After listening to Honkytonk University , it is clear that Keith has definitely benefited from his education. Let's hope he decides to go for his Masters or a PHD; after all, there is much to be said about learning and Keith is proof that this type of educational system produces excellent results.

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Toby Keith - Honkytonk University track listing.

1. Honkytonk U 
2. As Good As I Once Was 
3. She Ain't Hooked On Me No More 
4. Big Blue Note 
5. Just The Guy To Do It 
6. She Left Me 
7. Knock Yourself Out 
8. You Ain't Leavin' (Thank God Are Ya) 
9. I Got It Bad 
10. Your Smile 
11. Where You Gonna Go 
12. You Caught Me At A Bad Tim

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