I know we don’t seem to have a lot of country music coverage in the newspaper, but please, rockaholics, bear with me here. Because you know what? Toby Keith’s new album, American Ride, is filled with driving vocals and enough electric guitar to keep you rocking.

Of course, country fans shouldn’t worry, it’s still got that signature country twang, but Keith’s lyrics take a departure from typical country fare. Sure it talks about other guys dancing with your woman, but many of the songs – like “If You’re Tryin’, You Ain’t” – also examine the pressures of everyday life that can lead to (but not excuse) our vices.

Undoubtedly, though, the most touching song is “Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song),” dedicated to jazz musician Wayman Tisdale, Keith’s friend who died on May 15 of this year. Songs like this and “Tender As I Wanna Be” reveal an emotional evolution that, while sometimes kind of a downer, succeed in showing a vulnerability that Keith has never before brought out in his work.

Grade: A-



American Ride is currently available.