Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Toby Keith likes to have a little fun, and if he can get a rise out of you while he's at it -- even better.
With a cast of characters including a mischievous Jesus, a few stoned roadies and a disillusioned music critic, Keith's fourth DreamWorks Records effort, "Shock'n Y'All," takes satirical aim in various directions.
The Nov. 4 release follows in the wake of 2002's successful "Unleashed." The album has sold 3.2 million copies in the U.S. so far, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It won and lost Keith fans with the single "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," but ultimately established him as a crossover success, with a No. 1 album on Billboard's pop and country charts.
Featuring a more playful version of the country superstar, "Shock'n Y'All" is stripped of much of the production found on previous releases, with many of the songs carrying a jam-session vibe.
"We've been trying to make sure that as we make these records, sonically we make a difference with each one," says James Stroud, Keith's longtime co-producer and principal executive for DreamWorks in Nashville. "And this record is a little more raw, musically."
Particularly raw is the stand-up comedy of "The Critic." In a nearly spoken-word delivery, Keith takes on music critics like those that gave him less-than-favorable reviews when he first started.
"Me and Shania [Twain] came out on a publicity tour together, and nobody knew who either of us were," he recalls. "They graded us both horrible -- her an 'F' and me a 'D-minus' -- and we go on to sell probably as many records as anybody in the whole decade."
With a career U.S. album-sales total of 11 million, it's not surprising that Keith "laughed all the way through that song. It turned out exactly like I wanted it to."
To record the 12 tracks on the album, Keith and his band packed up and headed for the Key West, Fla., studio of one of his favorite performers, Jimmy Buffett.
Contributing to the informal vibe of "Shock'n Y'All" is the inclusion of two of his "bus" songs, usually reserved for his live-show audiences. "Weed for Willie" and "The Taliban Song" are part of a repertoire of tongue-in-cheek amusements that Keith writes during downtime on tour.
The album delivers more than just comedy, though, with the standout collaboration with Brooks & Dunn's Ronnie Dunn, "Don't Leave, I Think I Love You," and the introspective "American Soldier."
"I'm not for every war, and I'm not against every war, and obviously I don't consider myself smart enough to say whether we should be [in Iraq] or not," Keith says. "This is just my way of letting everybody know exactly what a soldier is: just another American that gets up and goes to work."
Currently No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, the album's first single, "I Love This Bar," is a catchy sing-along that Keith and the label agreed was the obvious choice to send to radio. He'll perform the song Nov. 5 during Country Music Association Awards, where he leads the nominations with seven.
On the evening of the album's release, Keith will perform a few new songs acoustically during a live broadcast from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Westwood One is syndicating that performance. During that week he will appear on the "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live".
With a decade-long career that started in 1993 with his first No. 1 hit, "Should've Been a Cowboy" (Mercury), and has since produced two multi-platinum, four platinum and two gold albums, Keith is ready for a little fun this time around. And if the critics don't like it, he'll take them on.
He says, "I never met a critic [and] didn't think I couldn't kick his ass."
Excerpted from the Oct. 25, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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