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Toby Keith – “Bullets in the Gun”



When the chorus of Toby Keith’s newest western-styled crime caper hits, you can almost hear “Justice is the one thing you should always find.” But despite similarly anthemic choruses, this tune is on another plane altogether from “Beer for My Horses,” a duet with Willie Nelson that exuded an off-putting cowboy bravado. Here, Keith inhabits a no-less confident but more sympathetic character.

Sound-wise, “Bullets” is something of a cross between Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” and a Chris LeDoux kicker, running along at a galloping gate through the verses before exploding into a rousing refrain. Of course, it’s rocked out with snarling guitars like most modern Clear Channel-friendly up-tempos, but a plucking banjo, the subject matter and Keith’s twang keep it firmly rooted in country. Toby’s vocal performance is fairly strong here, lacking a bit in the inflection category but making up for that with a powerful delivery.

The story—a southwestern retelling of Bonnie and Clyde—is not a new one, but it contains a depth rarely heard on modern radio. We’re along for the ride as biker/drifter Toby stops for a shot or two and an eyeful at a border strip joint. When a dancer’s interest in the singer draws the violent ire of the bar’s owner, the firecracker of a love interest quits her job with cold steel in her hand and she and her new favorite customer make away with the dive’s earnings, threatening “If you’re dumb enough to chase us, man you’re dumb enough to die.”

The duo hightails it to Mexico, where they consummate their relationship shortly before succumbing to the surety of their fate. Again, it’s the singer’s spirited lady-friend who turns to gunplay as a last resort, bringing their short romance to an end at the hands of the Federalies. It’s a predictable denouement, though still made satisfying thanks to the lyrics’ grounded believability and Keith’s brawny performance. Even more gratifying is the surprising symbolism, with Keith being the stimulant that incites the dancer’s life-changing (literally) decision, the match to her fuel, the bullets in her gun.

“Bullets in the Gun” is one of the more compelling releases of Toby Keith’s recent career, certainly deserving of a higher climb on the charts than previous single, the gimmicky “Trailerhood.” It’s reminiscent of his 90′s output, before “boots in asses,” ego trips and feuds made him more of a caricature than a country singer. When he avoids hyperbole and swaggering arrogance, Toby is one of the best country performers of the era, and this song is verification.

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