Tim McGraw has been sampling sounds for months, performing an array of new tracks everywhere from The Tonight Show to the American Music Awards, not to mention his own tour. Finally, we can get our hands on these little ditties with the release of his 13th studio album Sundown Heaven Town.
Sundown Heaven Town is almost a perfect record. I’ll admit I’d heard none of the songs until they magically appeared in my inbox, but as I listened I found myself saying over and over “That’s it. That’s the big hit” until the next one kicked in and reset the whole scale. This LP is a delightful balance of old-school McGraw that fans will find comfortingly familiar, with sounds that feel fresh, push boundaries and bring the country superstar seamlessly into 2014. The opening track, Overrated is the perfect example. A corny-in-the-best-way hit that opens with a catchy strum of the banjo, and as McGraw says, completely sets the tone for the album.
If you’re looking for the classic love letters to his wife, get your lighters ready and skip to City Lights, Last Turn Home, Still On The Line and the latest single Shotgun Rider. Packed with emotion and oh-so romantic lyrics, McGraw once again makes women everywhere envious of the lovely Faith Hill and makes me beg for him to call me. His better half even makes an appearance on the record with her stunning vocal performance on Meanwhile Back At Mama’s reminding us of the magic that happens when these two love birds hit the studio. The soft finger picking of the guitar is the perfect accompaniment, cementing the feeling of having supper on the porch at the McGraw’s. It’s easy to see why this one quickly took the airplay time off the funky tune Looking For That Girl.
Portland Maine is a gorgeous, heartbreaking little number, if not darker in content and without any tinge of a bright side. It’s not the only track that pulls at the heartstrings. Diamond Rings and Old Barstools is something special. Beautifully melodic and sad, with shining harmonies from McGraw’s cousin Catherine Dunn that had this reviewer reaching for the Kleenex. We ain’t like midnight and cigarette smoke / Nothing like watered down whiskey and coke / I guess some things just don’t mix like you hoped / like me and you, and diamond rings and old barstools.
Bringing the vibe and my mascara back up a little, Kid Rock features on Lincoln Continentals and Cadilacs which has his blokey and boy-like attitude all over it. It sounds just like good mates having a country jam over a couple of beers. Keep On Truckin’ is a Rascal Flatts type feel good anthem that makes me want to jump behind the wheel of a pick-up truck on a hot day. Words Are Medicine, which McGraw says is the most important song on the album, is a big, powerful ballad with a beautiful message of how easily we can affect one another. It feels like Bryan Adams in Nashville, which could never be a bad thing.
My pick for the biggest radio hit goes to The View. It is catchy and current and would fall perfectly alongside Phillip Philips, The Lumineers and 2014 break out stars Sheppard. It has a relaxed coolness the way Solsbury Hill does with huge mainstream crossover potential. I LOVE this track. We wind down with Black Jacket, with lyrics about memories, a nostalgic twang of the guitar and culminating with a strum of the banjo, flawlessly book ending the record.
Sundown Heaven Town – a near perfect record. Even my least favourite tracks have moments of brilliance (namely the piano feature on Kids Today.) Any number of these songs could be McGraw’s next Top 10 country smash, to add to the 50 he’s already mustered. It’s McGraw at his best. And I’m not even saying that because I want him to call me, I really mean it.