Keith has more hits than show can fit

Toby Keith isn't one to go into the making an album with any elaborate plan for how he wants the CD to sound.

“Whatever I wrote (at the time I wrote it) is what I record, and I have to live with that,” he said. “I don't really go in thinking, ‘I'm going to stretch myself this way,' or ‘I've got this kind of theme going,' or ‘I want to use acoustics all the way through.' I just look at each song and go, ‘Here's what instrumentation I want on this song,' and I bring the guys in and we put the magic dust on it.”

Keith can embrace that approach because he has built a track record for coming up with a few singles on each album that tend to race up the charts.

His current CD, “Big Dog Daddy,” is continuing the trend. “Love Me If You Can” topped the Billboard magazine “hot country singles” chart last year, while “High Maintenance Woman” went top five and “Get My Drink On” reached No. 11. The most recent single, “She's a Hottie,” peaked at No. 13 on the “hot country singles” chart.

The popularity of his albums and singles does come with one drawback. It makes putting together set lists for his tours a challenge.

“My show's almost two hours long and that's still not enough time to play (all the hit) songs,” Keith says. “I've sold 30 million albums and this is my 15th album. If there are three or four singles off of each album, you're talking 45 or 50 songs, and you're getting to where you just can't do them all. …You just try to make the most sense of a song list, and then you try to mix in a few new ones.”

Keith's current show – which comes to Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre tonight – will be a visual, high-energy experience.

“We're very live, we're energetic,” Keith said. “We sell a good time. We don't try to bring the beach to you, we don't try to bring a circus to you, we try to bring a rowdy, hot good time to make you feel good.”

Keith has plenty of reason to feel good about his career these days.

He now owns his own record company, Show Dog Records, and “Big Dog Daddy” marks the first time he has produced one of his own CDs. And as usual for a Keith album, he wrote or co-wrote nearly all the material, with writing credits on nine of the 11 songs.

The result is pretty much a prototypical CD for Keith. It features several rowdy and tuneful rocked-up tracks, such as “Hit It,” “Pump Jack,” “Get My Drink On” and the title song. Those tunes are balanced by several ballads that show a more sensitive and thoughtful side, such as “I Know She Hung the Moon,” “Walk It Off” and “Burnin' Moonlight.”

The standout ballad is “Love Me If You Can,” which describes a man of convictions who stands by his views, though they might seem controversial and even contradictory. It's a fitting song for Keith, who is no stranger to controversy, and sometimes can appear to contradict himself.

The 46-year-old often has been cast as an outspoken right-wing conservative, largely for recording patriotic songs like “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American).”

The latter song – a less-than-delicate call for retaliation against the Sept. 11 terrorist attackers – features lyrics like “We'll put a boot in your ass/It's the American way.” In 2002, Keith was invited to sing the tune on a July 4 special, but didn't perform after he refused to soften the lyrics at the request of late ABC news anchor Peter Jennings.

Ironically, Keith says he is a life-long Democrat, and that his positions – some of which are not conservative – are based on what he thinks is right.

“I don't play politics,” Keith said. “I don't lean. I stand straight on and I fight each issue head on, however I see it as right or wrong. I don't see the world as right or left. Agenda-driven politics are crazy. I hate it. But I'm guilty to a fault of being honest and outspoken about myself, and defending myself.”