Toby Keith is in the doghouse, and from the sound of things, he won’t be getting out any time soon.
His wife, Tricia, can’t stand the title of his new album: “White Trash With Money.”
Keith says it was inspired by an argument between his teenage daughter, Krystal, and another girl. The other girl’s mother intervened, and, to hear Keith tell it, had some harsh words for the Keith clan.
“This girl’s mother said, ‘I don’t care who they are — they’re nothing but white trash with money anyway,”’ Keith said.
“I got to laughing about it, but my wife was offended. I said, ‘What’s the matter, did she strike a nerve?’ I said the shoe fits. We’re multi-multi-millionaires because I sing about this very subject all the time. We’re not one generation removed — we’re exactly what she said.”
That’s vintage Keith, who works hard to cultivate his image as a truck-drivin’, hard-drinkin’ tough guy who speaks his mind. Few country artists stir things up the way he does.
He released his saber-rattling “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” after the 9/11 attacks, criticized the media for its coverage of the Iraq war and ripped the Country Music Association for snubbing him at its annual award show.
“White Trash With Money,” released Tuesday, was also born of controversy. It’s his first release on Show Dog Records, the label he formed after leaving DreamWorks Records last year.
Keith, 44, bolted from DreamWorks when it was acquired by Universal Music Group, the parent company of his old label, Mercury Records. Mercury had dropped Keith in 1999, and he had no intention of going back.
One man showKeith had complete control on the new album, and the sound is looser, with lots of slide guitar, organ, accordion, even a kazoo. The first single, a brassy horn-driven tune called “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” is at No. 7 on the Billboard chart.
As usual, he wrote or co-wrote all the tracks, most with his longtime writing partner Scotty Emerick. There are drinking songs (“Grain of Salt”), love songs (“A Little Too Late”), serious songs (“Ain’t No Right Way”) and funny songs (“Runnin’ Block”).
“A Little too Late” features a string arrangement by George del Barrio, who has worked with Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire. “Crash Here Tonight” is a ballad that Keith describes as his most tender moment on record yet: “Close your eyes and hum along,” he sings, “and I’ll sing you one more love song.”
Keith worked with a new co-producer this time, Lari White, a songwriter and recording artist who is also the wife of another of his songwriting buddies, Chuck Cannon. One of only a handful of female producers in Nashville, White softened Keith’s testosterone-charged approach a tad.
“There are a couple of things that are really brought home from a female perspective,” Keith said. “In the studio I sing hard, and she softened that up. On ‘Crash Here Tonight’ she said ‘You have a rich baritone voice, and I think this song can be just as sexy as all get out. Let’s keep it in this register. Let it be sassy and intimate.”’
White didn’t smooth all the rough edges, though.
Harsh tunes“Runnin’ Block” is about a guy who agrees to go on a double-date with his friend, finds out his date is less than desirable and realizes he’s there to help his friend score with her slimmer sister.
“I tried to drink her skinny, but she’s still about 215. Sometimes you’ve got to bow up, and just take one for the team,” Keith sings.
Besides the new album, Keith is promoting the upcoming movie “Broken Bridges,” in which he makes his film debut as a down-on-his-luck songwriter. He’s also busy with Show Dog Records, whose roster includes Emerick, Rebecca Lynn Howard and former Little Texas member Tim Rushlow.
Keith said he leaves the business side of running the label to others, but has a hand in all the creative decisions.
“The reason a lot of independent labels fail is that they have the same costs to operate as the majors but they don’t have the same roster or catalog. They don’t have a flagship artist,” he said. “With us, I’m the first artist we signed. So we’re not dependent on selling records with other artists to keep this open.
“As long as my career as a singer-songwriter is successful and we’re doing tours and selling out, my record label will go hand in hand. The only thing that will make this fail is when my career is over.”