I’m on a bit of a Tim McGraw jag at the moment. I don’t know why. Those smooth sounds, maybe, that vocal sound, which is not so much autotuned as excitered into the fifth dimension.
His recent album Damn Country Music is much of a muchness with his other output of late, and no particular song jumps out at me right now, but it’s the sheer consistency that gets you in the end. Alan Jackson dependably puts out a decent album every year, as does Brad Paisley. That’s one of the joys of country music: its slow-changing nature, and the high quality of the top acts. If you like it, you go on liking it, more or less.
Thing with McGraw, he doesn’t write for himself, so is dependent on the roster of songwriters who supply him with material. Now, this is where a career can slide. Both Jackson and Paisley co-write a lot of their own songs. Tim McGraw stays on top by staying on top. As long as he’s on top, he gets the cream of the crop. All the songwriters make more money that way. Garth Brooks used to ‘do an Elvis’ by having his name attached to songs brought to him by others (I guess he may have contributed a line or two?). Other artists fall by the wayside, and stop getting first pick of the best songs from the song pluggers. And life is getting harder for songwriters, I think, because of the recent rise of singer-songwriter artists, which didn’t use to be so much of a thing.
Songwriting has long been associated with pairs of writers, but I’ve noticed a trend in recent years for the traditional two-way co-writes to become three- or even four-ways. In an industry that claims to be suffering from the rise of streaming and the loss of physical sales, it seems that the sure-thing income from artists like Tim McGraw is being spread ever-more thinly. One name you’ll see all over Damn Country Music and other recent McGraw albums is Rodney Clawson, who gets a co-writing credit on no less than five of the 14 songs on the Deluxe edition. It’s interesting to see the roster of artists that Clawson has written for – the likes of Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lady A, Blake Shelton, FGL, and so on, all of whom are country chart-topping and award-winning acts. But very few of their fans would be aware of the behind-the-scenes contribution of Clawson.
Meanwhile, a writer like Chris Stapleton, who wrote hits for many of the same artists (including ‘Whiskey and You’ for Tim McGraw) has taken his ball home, in a sense, because he’s now a solo recording artist. The breakthrough success of his album means that he’ll likely be reserving his songs for his next outing.
I think the remarkable thing about Tim McGraw is that, since he established his mature sound about 14 years ago (with his …and the Dancehall Doctors album), his records really go on improving with age. I still love ‘She’s My Kind of Rain’ from that album, among others, and still have several favourites from each subsequent record in my playlist.
I liked his 2014 album Sundown Heaven Town when it came out, but 18 months on, I truly love it. You don’t get this from standard album reviews: everyone is in a rush to get the review online, but it’s rare for anybody to come back a year and a half later and tell you that it’s not only good, but gets better with age.
‘City Lights’, ‘Shotgun Rider’, ‘Sick of Me’, ‘Portland, Maine,’ ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’ – all superb. I even like ‘Keep On Truckin’, which I ought to hate but don’t.
Anyway, this all means that his latest, Damn Country Music, will probably hit me hard sometime in late 2017. Meanwhile, I’ve got a 4-hour 48-minute McGraw playlist.