Tim McGraw may be as down home a good old boy as anyone in country music today, but underneath the "aw shucks" exterior beats the heart of an artist anxious to become an Artist. Pre-release hype has focused on the fact that this album was recorded at a remote mountaintop studio with his road band rather than in Nashville with the session regulars, and some big claims result from the process, with words like "organic," "real" and "risk-taking" coming in for heavy use.
Sweep away the "breaking the rules" rhetoric, though, and what remains is a Tim McGraw album that's largely in the vein of his last effort - which is to say, one that will please his fans but probably won't change many minds otherwise. Working with his Dancehall Doctors might have made a difference in the way McGraw felt while making the album, but it doesn't count for much otherwise. Sure, there's a more prominent r&b flavor here on songs like the horn-laced "Watch The Wind Blow By," butotherwise the music's largely the same rock-influenced country he's been making so successfully for years.
If the effort to stretch out isn't fully reflected in the results, the fault lies largely with the songs, which for the most part rely on heavily on cliches about the need to be free, to find one's self, to live life to the fullest and so on. These are admirable sentiments, but they are presented as though they're fresh in and of themselves, andit's just not so. Take "Red Ragtop"; though McGraw calls it "a great, powerful story song," it is at best unexceptionable, and wholly undeserving (for better or for worse) of the controversy it's stirred up at a few radio stations for its abortion reference.
Indeed, the songs here are so full of Big Thoughts expressed in such leaden terms that the CD could have been a grandiose, overblown disaster.
Perhaps ironically, the fact that it isn't may be due to the way in which it was made, as the Dancehall Doctors seem just too down-to-earth to engage in the over-the-top gestures some of these songs seem to beg for. In the end, even though it can't carry the weight McGraw wants to give it, the process worked.