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From the Country Standard Time Archives

McGraw is just a good old boy having fun

Mansfield, Mass., Tweeter Center, July 19, 2001

By Jeffrey B. Remz

MANSFIELD, MA - No doubt about it that Tim McGraw is firmly atop the heap of country artists when it comes to popularity. Garth Brooks is taking it easy. Others like Vince Gill aren't quite as popular as they used to be.

Well, actually, there be an exception. Wife Faith Hill maybe be even more popular, but the pregnant Hill wasn't there to entertain the masses at the Tweeter Center Thursday.

Hill left that to her husband, who dished out country with a strong rock and pop edge to his approving fans, who were on their feet during most of the 100-minute show.

The secret to McGraw's commercial success may have more to do with song selection and a down home, easy going personality than being the creme de la creme as a singer or pperformer.

The guy has wracked up hit after hit after hit without any problem since his first one, the somewhat controversial "Indian Outlaw" in 1994.

McGraw generally has benefitted from decent material, perhaps never moreso than on his new album, "Set This Circus Down," where he stretches it out musically a bit more. There's nothing radically different there, but at least he isn't running in place either.

And when the hits keep coming, so does the rise to the top, which, of course, has been aided by Hill's popularity as well.

But is there more to McGraw than being a voice on a silver platter?

In concert, he puts the songs over well enough with an appropriate amount of intensity and emotion. McGraw, 34, also seems to be more comfortable as a performer.

And he certainly knows how to have fun with songs as well. "I Like It, I Love It," perhaps his good time signature song, certainly was a highlight with the crowd joyously singing along.

But where McGraw was somewhat lacking (and has in the past at least when he appeared here as part of the George Strait Fest several years ago) is a commanding singing presence. Too often, his voice falls victim to the power of the guitar.

That's what apparently happens when a country guy eschews his roots for a more pop (McGraw actually opened with Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"), rock sound in his country.

McGraw also launched into an excessively long medley of his hits. If McGraw feels they're good enough to trot out, why not do songs, like "Refried Dreams," justice with a full version?

The show seemed to work best when McGraw toned it down sonically and veered towards a more country bent. Interestingly enough, the highlights weren't necessarily his hits. The encore of "The Cowboy in Me" and "Forget About Us" were about the two best songs all night.

While many artists would concentrate only on the hits in concert, McGraw earned kudos for emphasizing the new album with songs like the title track and "Carry On" from "A Place in the Sun."

The crowd seemed quite pleased thank you no matter whether the music rocked or was softer.

McGraw more than held his own headlining a show with good friend Kenny Chesney preceding him.

Chesney trotted out hit after hit with almost no let up during his 55-minute show. Like McGraw, Chesney has a slew of songs that are very catchy ear candy in the pop country vein like "How Forever Feels" and "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."

These aren't exactly deep songs lyrically.

Though he lacks the charisma of the headliner, Chesney, too, has improved as a performer. The crowd gave a deservedly strong reaction to Chesney's show.

Easily the most country oriented performer of the evening was opener Mark Collie. Off the charts for a good six years, Collie mined more of a rockabilly, rootsy country sound to good effect.

And lest anyone forget that this was, in fact, a country show - though not one for the hard core country crowd by any stretch - Collie, Chesney and McGraw closed the evening with the old Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley hit "Just Good Ol' Boys." Appropriate since the boys and fans enjoyed a good night out.