CHUCK DAUPHIN• SoundslikeNashville.com
Without a doubt, Tim McGraw has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in Country Music the past two decades. When you’ve been able to maintain a career like he has, the question becomes ‘How does one keep it up?’ After all, McGraw has scored with love songs, honky-tonkers, and even songs such as “Highway Don’t Care” that show how well the singer has handled the passage of time.
For his third disc under the Big Machine umbrella, McGraw comes up with his strongest collection in quite a few years. The interesting thing about Damn Country Music is how the singer pulls it off. With such a title, one might think the album is a move in a more traditional direction. And… to an extent, you would be right to make such an assumption. “Here Tonight,” which kicks off the disc, has a little bit of an Appalachian feel – with its opening notes. The track is also notable for the vocal debut of one Gracie McGraw – daughter of Tim and Faith. The teenager shows herself to have come by her vocal chops naturally. Needless to say, I don’t think it’s the last you’re going to hear from her.
“How I’ll Always Be” struck me as the type of song that Merle Haggard might have recorded – if he had gotten his start in the 1990s. McGraw handles the lyrics – about staying true to one’s self amidst life and culture’s changing seas – effortlessly, giving one of his greatest performances. The title cut does pay tribute to his heritage, but the singer best shows his roots on the masterpiece “Don’t Make Me Feel At Home.” It’s a piece of stone-country that would make a George Jones or Conway Twitty proud, with a slice of Keith Whitley – one of McGraw’s heroes – thrown in for good measure.
But, Tim McGraw has always demonstrated a flair for the contemporary, and there are several tracks on the album that fall under the category musically adventurous. “Losin’ You” is among the best in this vein, along with first single “Top Of The World,” the moody “Want You Back,” which should find favor with radio.
To further illustrate the point that McGraw is not an artist to be pigeon-holed, Damn Country Music closes out with two performances that swing in opposite directions yet are very much enjoyable. “California,” a collaboration with Big & Richis 3:30 of pure fun – and should make a great video should it be a single, while “Humble and Kind” is a Lori McKenna-written masterpiece – one that wouldn’t have worked for McGraw the Rebel Rouser of 1995, but as a father of three, it works abundantly well now.
Just like a Conway Twitty or George Strait, who wrote the book on how to best evolve as an artist, Tim McGraw has taken a page from that playbook. Damn Country Music doesn’t make a huge artistic statement about the heritage or the future of Country Music, but the artist adheres to the golden rule in Nashville – It’s about the songs… and this collection will add several to that list!