Music

Hear Toby Keith’s Final Studio Recording, a Cover of a Joe Diffie Classic

The late songwriter recorded ‘Ships That Don’t Come In’ with Luke Combs for Hardy’s ‘Hixtape’ album

When Hardy dropped the Joe Diffie-themed third volume of his Hixtape series on Friday, he did so with an army of country cameos: Blake Shelton, Chris Young, Clint Black, Darius Rucker, Hailey Whitters, and Koe Wetzel all turn up on various tracks. But it’s the inclusion of Toby Keith that’s the most poignant. His appearance on “Ships That Don’t Come In,” with Luke Combs, is his final studio performance before his death in February.

Written by Paul Nelson and Dave Gibson and released by Diffie in 1992, “Ships That Don’t Come In” ruminated on the twists and turns of life, from opportunities taken and those that never presented themselves. Keith and Combs trade lines on Hardy’s new recording, with Diffie’s original vocal woven throughout. It’s an elegant recording — and a moving coda to Keith’s studio career.

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Last week, Keith was announced as one of the new inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, joining John Anderson and James Burton as the 2024 class. Keith, who battled stomach cancer for the past few years, died a day before he would have likely learned of his induction.

Diffie, a pillar of Nineties country music known for hits like “Pickup Man,” “John Deere Green,” and “Third Rock From the Sun,” died in 2020 at 61 after contracting Covid-19. Hardy, Morgan Wallen, and Post Malone paid tribute to Diffie at the 2023 CMA Awards, performing a version of “John Deere Green.”

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