In mainstream country music, few names hold as much clout as Tim McGraw. Tim has been a superstar since the mid 90’s, and while many of his fellow 90’s country acts are fading from the radio play and big tours, Tim’s star shines as bright as ever. I’ve made no secret in the past as to why this is. Tim McGraw is the best trend chaser in country music. Tim has a song for the sound that is popular in the mainstream for each mini-era of his career. Line dancing? “Indian Outlaw”. Late 90’s slick, but traditional-leaning country? “Where The Green Grass Grows”. Over-produced 2000’s pop-country? “Live Like You Were Dying”. Bro-country? “Truck Yeah”. This push towards adult contemporary country? “Highway Don’t Care”. Tim is a master at keeping an ear to what’s popular and finding his own version of it to stay relevant. Whether that earns him your respect or disdain is your call. Now, with country at a crossroads, Tim has to make a stand. We are at a point where you either make your money standing your ground for traditional country or sell out 100% to make noise. Not much in-between. While Tim still tries to play both sides of the fence, I’m happy to say that Damn Country Music is much closer to the right side of things rather than the wrong.
We may be entering a new era of Tim McGraw. I am inclined to think that he is truly making the music he wants to make. I think Tim cares about being relevant, but he appreciates actual country music as well. Therefore, the good music on Damn Country Music isn’t just decent, its borderline great. “Here Tonight” has a Celtic feel and sing-along melody that is just begging to be a radio single. When you add in the family harmony with his daughter Gracie, you get a really enjoyable track. “What I’ve Always Been” is a little more of a list song than I would like, but you can’t argue with the melody or sentiment of the song. “California” features Big & Rich on harmony and has the soaring groove that reminisces some of the best pop-country of the early 2000’s. “Humble And Kind” has heartfelt advice that you used to get all the time from country radio. The best two of the bunch, however, are real knockouts. The title track, “Damn Country Music”, is a great tribute to the difficulties of trying to hit the big time. It contrasts the highs and lows that country music can create with the authenticity that only a guy who has lived it can bring. The song is drenched in steel guitar and is as stone cold country as any song released by a mainstream artist in years. The other stellar number is “Don’t Make Me Feel At Home”. Some of the best songs in country music history are the good ole fashioned cheating songs. Tim delivers one here that is thought provoking and as sad as can be. If this gets released to radio, it will be a CMA and ACM Song of The Year contender for sure.
The album is not perfect, but even the bad moments aren’t that bad. I would qualify most of the remainder of this album as “forgettable”. The problem with a lot of pop-country is that it is so bland and cliché that you can’t tell it apart or get into it. “Love Runs”, “Losin’ You”, “Want You Back”… all just another typical pop country song, nothing to get into, nothing to stew over either. The lead single, “Top Of The World" is just another generic song with a pop oriented chorus and electronic drum beat. Yawn. If Tim would have taken the approach he did on the aforementioned tracks with the whole album, this could be a game changer. Instead he falls just short of greatness. I guess the good thing to take away here is that Tim isn’t rapping about pick-ups or giving in to the “Uptown Funk” wanna-be, r&b country trend that most are trying. That is progress. For once, Tim isn’t following a trend. Dare I say, he is setting them.
Damn Country Music is a good example of finding a balance. I don’t expect every mainstream album to be a Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton punch you in the gut knockout. There does need to be a pop country for the mainstream as well. The problem is, that pop country needs to be grounded in the genre’s roots. This album has a lot of bland moments, but it also has some really great ones. This is pop country for people who actually like country music, not the bandwagon jumpers of the past decade. Tim McGraw has had some rocky moments. “Truck Yeah” still haunts my darkest nightmares. But, he has finally grown into his role as an elder statesmen for country music. Unlike some of his fellow mid 90’s stars, Tim still has mainstream appeal. It’s great to see him using that appeal to make some solid music. Damn Country Music is some country damn music.
Standout Tracks: "Damn Country Music", "Don't Make Me Feel At Home", "Here Tonight" (feat. Gracie McGraw), "California" (feat. Big & Rich), "Humble And Kind", "What I've Always Been"
"Damn Country Music"
"Don't Make Me Feel at Home"
"Here Tonight" feat. Gracie McGraw
"Humble And Kind"