Reviewing a Tim McGraw album is tricky for me to do without having a certain amount of bias. In the mid-90s, when I first started listening to country music, Tim McGraw was one of my favorites along with George Strait and Alan Jackson. McGraw was the first country concert I ever went to (my first ever concert was Matchbox Twenty). I’ve never stopped being a fan of McGraw’s, even despite a couple of lazy and trend-chasing songs like “Truck Yeah,” and “Lookin’ For That Girl.” McGraw has always put out a relatively solid release, even if there have been a couple of sub-par songs along the way.
So, keep all that in mind when taking my assessment of this album into account.
On “Losin’ You,” McGraw sings of the reminders of losing a former lover. It’s a pretty tried-and-true song and there’s not a real novel approach here. But keep in mind, there’s a difference between trend chasing and using a recurring theme. This is the latter. The song has somewhat of a reminiscence of his previous hit from the late 90’s, “Everywhere.” Despite this, it’s an enjoyable offering. It feels like it could be a song McGraw may have sung during the height of his popularity in the 90s.
“How I’ll Always Be” starts off with a really nice instrumental before the vocals kick in. The song does have a bit of a checklist approach as McGraw sings about the things he enjoys versus those he’d prefer to avoid. Even from the title, the song is a bit of telegraphable. It’s not a terrible song, and songs with these themes aren’t bad when taken in moderation. The song just feels more safe than it does offensive.
The title track “Damn Country Music” is a pretty strong offering where McGraw sings about the idea of sacrificing everything for the sake of chasing a dream. This could make a pretty good choice for a single: it’s original enough that it would stand out but not so bold that it may fall by the wayside as being too much against the grain.
“Love Runs” would be a dream single. It’s a really unique song with a great beat and a strong melody. I might complain that the production is a bit heavy at some points, but overall, this is the first true gem on the album.
“What You’re Looking For” continues the strong string of songs and might be McGraw’s strongest vocal performance to this point on the album. It’s a song about wishing one who is leaving the best and that they find what they’re looking for.
“Top of the World” was the lead single for the album and (to date) has reached Number 12 on the Country Airplay Chart. It’s not a bad song, but like “How I’ll Always Be,” it’s just a bit safe. There’s nothing special about this. McGraw is at the stage of his career where he can release much stronger material because most of his sales are going to come from long-term fans and not from bringing in hoards of new listeners. Is there anything particularly wrong with this song? Not really – at least not in the way there were huge issues with “Truck Yeah,” and “Lookin’ For That Girl.” It probably would even be more enjoyable as an album cut. But as a lead single from a new album, it just doesn’t do much.
“Don’t Make Me Feel At Home” is a cheating song about a man looking for a simple night at a pleasure away from someone who no longer makes him feel loved. It’s a riskier song – maybe the riskiest McGraw has done in quite a while, possibly since “Good Girls” off of his Southern Voice album. It’s a song where the main character comes off as less than a hero while still managing to avoid seeming like a completely unlikeable jerk.
“Want You Back” is a bit weaker and leans toward some clichéd lyrics. It doesn’t completely chase trends, and in a country music market with more variety, this song might stand out as one of the better of its ilk, but in the current environment, mentions of “red wine lips” just seem lost and overdone.
“California” features “Big & Rich” and is about a girl who’s left because she’s “in love with California and breaking [his] heart.” It’s got a catchy beat and feels like it’s meant to be a summer song. The lyrics don’t really do much for me. They’re a bit generic, but again, far from offensive.
“Humble and Kind” ends the standard version of the album and is another strong vocal performance from McGraw. It’s a song about offering advice to a leaving child, with heavy importance placed on remaining “humble and kind.” It’s one of the best songs on the collection and definitely the best vocal offering. One of the best lines of the album comes from this song: “know the difference between sleeping with someone and sleeping with someone you love / ‘I love you’ ain’t no pick-up line.” The song must hold special significance for McGraw, whose daughter Gracie is 18 and must be getting ready to leave for college.
Of the three deluxe tracks, “Kiss a Girl” is the one that impresses the most with a surprisingly strong vocal performance. This could have easily fit on the standard version, which at eleven tracks is shorter than most of McGraw’s recent albums. “Country and Western” could have also been added to the standard version and eliminate the lackluster “Everybody’s Lookin’” and just stuck with one standard thirteen-track edition and eliminated the deluxe edition altogether for this release.
As a long-time fan of McGraw, I think I may like this album more than I should, but even objectively, I think it’s a pretty solid album. Even at its worst, it’s still enjoyable. It does its best to avoid chasing trends, even at points where some lyrics delve into some clichés. It’s among the best mainstream releases of the year (despite the fact that that bar has been set relatively low). True country purists won’t be overly enamored with it; your average modern country fan won’t give it much attention either; it’s McGraw’s long-time fans and those with an open enough mind who will find it worth the time and money. It’s not an upper echelon album, but it’s pretty good.