McGraw’s latest a ‘fun, brassy,’ country ride
Carl J. Bachus | culture editor
OK, bold statement time: Tim McGraw’s “Two Lanes of Freedom” is possibly the best country crossover album to pop up within the last few years (Looking at you, Swift).
In the country staple’s first album since giving up alcohol five years ago, McGraw has put forth possibly the most sonically dense set of country hits of his career. The songs each have a signature sound and evoke a wide range of emotions, which all result in a country ride that’s brassy, hook-heavy and fun as hell.
The title track serves up a more familiar sound to ease the core fan base into McGraw’s newer, pop-rock-oriented sound. Arena-ready guitar riffs and drum solos lend considerable heft to tracks like “Tinted Windows” and “It’s Your World.”
Aside from the well-produced rockers and more basic country fodder like “Nashville Without You,” what country album would be complete without a few good ballads? McGraw delivers a good lot of made-for-radio tracks like “Let Me Love it Out of You” and “Friend of a Friend,” sure to have the Daisy-Dukes and Cowboy Boots crowd crooning at the top of their lungs.
The up-tempo songs, however, are where McGraw’s latest effort truly shines, particularly tracks like “Southern Girl” and “Mexicoma,” the album’s fun hangover anthem. In all honesty, if McGraw wanted, “Mexicoma” could possibly have the summer-anthem crossover appeal of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be with You.” Yes, it’s that good.
Other standout tracks include “Annie I Owe You a Dance,” a piano-laden, ode to past love, and “Book of John,” a slow love letter to getting older. Well-written and impeccably produced, the ballads stand out as the album’s most moving tracks.
McGraw has enlisted an impressive list of collaborators, including producer Byron Gallimore and an ensemble of songwriters (including the Warren Brothers). This talent has written for Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride. Taylor Swift and Keith Urban join in for the closing track, “Highway Don’t Care.” It’s a catchy number that will surely be blasted from Jeeps and pickups this summer – but doesn’t quite make up for the lack of a Faith Hill duet.
“Two Lanes of Freedom” isn’t a good country album; it’s just a good album, period. It’s got a few tremendous ballads, some really good crossover tracks and “Truck Yeah” for the honky-tonk hot mess in all of us. If country’s coming this correct in February, imagine what else 2013’s music landscape has in store.