Music reviews

Big Dog Daddy – Toby Keith
With his latest CD, Toby Keith has two new things to brag about: This is the first record he has 100 percent ownership of – on his own record company, Show Dog Nashville. He’s also producing the effort. “The only reason I never produced an album by myself before is I didn’t have time,” says Keith. “But I knew I was going to have to across the board dive in if I wanted this album to be one of the best of my career. So I came in with guns blazing.”

The 11-track Big Dog Daddy is chock-full of prime cuts, including the Craig Wiseman-penned “Love Me If You Can,” a cut that T.K. says really hit the mark with him. “I sang my own harmonies on this album, and I’d never done that before,” says the 46-year-old Oklahoman. “I’d let harmony singers come in and do their thing. This time we’d get through laying down a song, and the engineer would play it back while I threw down a harmony track. Me singing with me. ‘High Maintenance Woman’ is one of them.” Other tunes worth a spin include “Get My Drink On” and “I Know She Hung the Moon.” B+

Easy Money – John Anderson
Wrinkles aren’t necessarily the best thing to have in Music City. Their arrival is usually a guarantee that the major labels will drop an artist. Luckily, the big guys will sometimes overlook age and give a seasoned vet a chance. Warner Bros. Nashville is giving Mr. “Swingin'” Himself – John Anderson – a chance to show off his skills in the 21st Century.

The 52-year-old Floridian had a “Chicken Truck” load of hits in the ’80s and ’90s. Along the way his music had an influence on future Big & Rich member John Rich, who has now inducted Anderson into the MuzikMafia and produced (and wrote much of) this dynamic effort. “Funky Country” sounds a lot like Big & Rich. The sad song “Bonnie Blue” and the ballad “I Can’t Make Her Cry Anymore” showcase the singer’s depth. Willie Nelson appears on a song named for him – “Willie’s Guitar.” Merle Haggard and Keith Urban also drop by for a visit on the disc. A-

Balls – Elizabeth Cook
This fourth effort from Southern beauty Elizabeth Cook is a great one, despite its off-color title. She lured Rodney Crowell into the studio to produce her independent disc, and their collaboration yields cuts such as “Rest Your Weary Mind” and “Times Are Tough in Rock ‘n Roll.”

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The daughter of a convicted Georgia moonshiner who played bass in a prison band, Cook’s music and style are authentic – sans the ‘shine. In “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman,” she salutes Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn as heroes. Cook, 35, does a great job covering Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.” The honky-tonker “What Do I Do” gives the singer a chance to show off her Dixie-ness. The frequent Grand Ole Opry guest is one heartbeat away from a lucky platinum break in Music City. You go, girl! B

Cole Deggs & The Lonesome
Southern fivesome Cole Deggs & The Lonesome may be new, but don’t let this Columbia Records act fool you. Frontman Cole Deggs, of Lake Jackson, Texas, has the look and pipes to help set a new standard for country acts in the 21st Century.

Nashville veterans Mark Wright and Rivers Rutherford produced this 11-track self-titled debut from Deggs and his cast. Two sets of brothers are in the quintet: Cole and Shade Deggs (bass), as well as Louisianans Jimmy (keyboard) and David Wallace (lead guitar). Brian Hayes, of Clearwater, Fla., is on drums. Cole and Jimmy co-wrote four of the CD’s songs, including “Girl Like You.” The first single, “I Got More,” was co-written by Rutherford. It was the kind of song that gripped each of the members as a “no-brainer” to record. Other recordings worth listening to include “The One That Got Away,” “Huggin’ This Blacktop” and “Do You Ever Think About Me,” the last a love ballad with a Southern rock feel. C+

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