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Toby Keith 

Honkytonk University (Dreamworks)

Just like his beloved president, this Nashville foot soldier is a simple man of action. After two albums keyed around political machismo, Honkytonk University turns back to country's home turf of barrooms and bedrooms, opening with an I-did-it-my-way title track that's so lumbering and full of bass, it could be mistaken for prime Waylon or Hank Junior. Keith holds the trad tone for most of University's first half, even writing a decent simulation of classic Merle Haggard for a duet with his idol, in which Toby and Hag pick up all their bad habits because "She Ain't Hooked on Me No More."

Problem is, as Keith's fearless commander-in-chief proves time and again, no simple man of action can sustain gravelly gravitas for long. Soon enough, the disc turns toward the soft-rock terrain of his other major influence, Jimmy Buffett, and the heartbreak turns to wry shrugs as he meanders between bald clichés and the joke songs that are his strong suit.

More by Franklin Soults

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