jumped from Mercury to DreamWorks after his fourth album, Dream Walkin'
and How Do You Like Me Now?!
, his first effort for his new album, finds the singer/songwriter revived and refreshed, shaking loose some of the sleepiness of his two albums for Mercury. Not that he's given up slower tunes -- he still has a keen ear for sensitive love songs and heartbreak sagas, manifesting in both the light, sweet "Heart to Heart (Stelen's Song)" and power ballads like "When Love Fades" -- but there is a bit of a showy defiance here, best heard on the hit title track, "Die with Your Boots On" and the rocking "Country Comes to Town." When taken together, these two sides present the new Toby Keith
persona: the big, bad outlaw who hides a big, soft heart. He would further develop and refine this persona in a series of excellent albums in the 2000s, but this is where he debuted it and if, in retrospect, How Do You Like Me Now?!
is a little bit ragged compared to what came later -- the swagger isn't as gritty, the ballads a little bit syrupy -- it nevertheless is a compelling, successful beginning of the second stage of Keith
's career, built upon some very fine songs.