Toby Keith's 2005 release, "Honkytonk University" shows nothing really new for one of country's biggest new-er stars. While it's a good album, it's nothing special. It's no different from what he's been doing for the past several years. He's still got his swaggering country-rock that can still manage to get occassional mainstream airplay, and manages to combine the sounds of traditionalist country twang with modern country's more rock-driven sound.
With the leadoff track "Honkytonk U", Keith sings an autobiographical tune that claims his roots lie in sitting in with the houseband while working at his grandma's tavern. Pretty cool track, but the cockiness of the chorus ("Sold out every basketball arena!!!") definitely doesn't do Keith any good on this rags-to-riches track. 3.5/5
The next cut is the album's first single, "As Good As I Once Was". It's a testament to how much old age sucks. For instance, Keith can't get chicks, nor can he help his friend fight with hillbillies and bikers over a game of pool. Darn. It's a catchy tune that leaves little wonder as to why it was the first single from the CD. 4/5
"She Ain't Hooked On Me No More" sounds like a George Strait tune. It's an ode to lost love (believe me, this album has no lack of this theme) and what happens afterwards. Toby enjoys starting smoking and drinking again. It's a change from the first two cuts of the album - a good one, at that. 4/5
"Big Blue Note" is an odd track, to say the leasat. It's another ode to lost love with a blues/country feel. A neat blues organ with a moaning steel guitar and a great harmonica solo show a pretty cool musical dynamic not normally seen in tradtionalist or neo-traditionalist country music. 3.5/5
Next up is "Just the Guy to Do It", in which Keith helps a new female "friend" recover from a jerk boyfriend relationship. Nothing's really good about this track. 2.5/5
"She Left Me" starts with a pretty cool banjo roll from the guitar player. And that's just about it for this track... The only thing going for this track is the musicianship. The lyrics are pointlessly idiotic ("We'd still be together/But she left me/I got mad about it/But it never did upset me/She'll remember me until she forgets me/We'd still be together/But she left me") and the storytelling is not great at all - 3/5
"Knock Yourself Out" is an all right track about a relationship going downhill 'cause of regression on the girl's part. She wishes to go back to her old boyfriend. Toby Keith doesn't care. A true honkytonk power ballad - 4/5
"You Ain't Leavin (Thank God Are Ya)" is one of my favorite tracks, as it puts a spin on the by now-old theme of "my girlfriend's leaving". On this one, Keith's actually happy about it. He was cheating on the girl anyway. One of the album's better tracks. 3.5/5
"I Got It Bad" is another good one, as well as the best love-lost song on the album in that the songwriting is ace, and the music fits quite well, of course. However, by now, I, frankly, am sick of Toby moping about how his girl left him...Cheer Up, Toby! - 4.5/5
"Your Smile" is yet another softy on which Keith sings a teen girl cliche ("Take your frown/ Turn it upside down/ For you nevefr know who might be fallin' in love with your smile") to a presumably newly-single ladyfriend - 4/5.
"Where You Gonna Go" presumably references Johnny and June Cash's relationship. The song tells of a noncommital ramblin' man whose girl decides she wants to get married. Well, that just won't do. So he does what any guy would do...he walks out on her! Of course, as things would have it, he ends up coming crawling back to her after running out of cash. Yet another twist, she's pregnant now. They both need each other. Great storytelling makes this the best song on this record - 4.5/5
"You Caught Me At A Bad Time" is an allright way to end the album, and surprising coming from Keith. A story of yearning to be in lvoe, but not being available to love (in the sense that he's recovering from a relationship). A sweet tune that makes a great album closer - 4/5.
By no way is this album excellent. By no means is it the best Toby Keith album. He's still got a lot to prove to the deans at Honkytonk U. Don't get me wrong, I like the record just fine. And I believe Keith when he claims his Honkytonk U graduation...but I think he'd be lying if he claimed to be at the top of the class.
"Where You Gonna Go"
"She Ain't Hooked On Me No More"
"As Good As I Once Was"