Toby Keith, "Hope on the Rocks" (Show Dog/ Universal)
Keith understands honky-tonk life and all of its nuances as well as any musician working today, even the parts in which nuance don't figure into the equation.
The Oklahoma country singer/songwriter who's reached the top of the country charts with such quaff-minded odes as "Beer for My Horses," "Whiskey Girl" and "I Love This Bar" clearly hasn't exhausted that wellspring of musical inspiration yet, returning to the corner watering hole several times in the 10 new songs on "Hope on the Rocks." The title track is the best, examining the rocky roads that often lead lost souls to seek refuge in drink.
Keith's thinking man arm wrestles with more single-minded characters elsewhere, as in "The Size I Wear," whose comically reductionist sexism won't win him any new admirers among thinking women, while "I Like Girls That Drink Beer" trades on a variation of Garth Brooks' honky-tonk anthem "Friends in Low Places." "Get Got" is an impressive compendium of country wisdom as contained in one-liners such as "Less is more, 'cept love and money" and "Talk less, just listen, you can learn a lot."
Keith has clearly become a skilled listener, a vital trait for any songwriter -- or bartender.
RANDY LEWIS, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Tim Maia, "Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia" (Luaka Bop)
The eccentric, heavyset Brazilian soul iconoclast born Sebastiao Rodrigues Maia lived only 55 years -- enough to leave behind a wealth of timelessly fresh, vibrantly funky music. Coinciding with what would have been his 70th birthday, Luaka Bop recently released this enthralling set of prime 1970s Maia material, his gruff yet elastic Portuguese and English vocals heard on 15 original songs proving him an estimable era contemporary of Sly and the Family Stone or Curtis Mayfield. It caps the label's decade-plus efforts to compile a worthy showcase for the hard-living artist, still under-recognized outside his native country. (Tellingly, the album is the latest in the World Psychedelic Classics series that the imprint launched with its revelatory "Os Mutantes" compilation in 1999.)
Liner notes detail Maia's colorful rise from Rio de Janeiro poverty to youthful sojourn in New York to cult membership back home in Brazil. The tunes make him unforgettable, from thoughtful, slow-burn jams such as the title track to the guitar-flash-fortified "Que Beleza," reminiscent of the Isley Brothers, to the easy-swangin' early disco-funk version of Maia's irresistible hometown homage "Do Leme Ao Pontal" -- which, truly, one might want to go on forever, but of course.
DAVID R. STAMPONE, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER