Another month, another country album that your mom or American cousins might like. This month, it’s Tim McGraw, and he’s hardly poised to challenge any assumptions about what kind of person makes country music. His latest, Damn Country Music, is unlikely to challenge the standard country sound. Certainly no one is expecting him to, but with his recent outings being so uncharacteristically rocky, there’s plenty reason to be apprehensive. McGraw is serviceable in this album, and notably restrained. He serves up a few solid numbers that avoid the worst excesses of country schlock, while steering clear of his previous pop pretensions that gave listeners serious “But I’m a cool dad!” vibes. Sadly, it’s not enough to stop the slow train to Snoozeville.
On appearances alone, the album’s artwork isn’t exactly a countrified orgy of fringe and brown leather, but it leaves McGraw himself, in ripped jeans and a cowboy hat, looking like the hottest dad at the parent-teacher meeting. McGraw takes a similar restrained approach to the album itself but, far from eking out some measure of unvarnished emotion, he produces a lot of undifferentiated mush.
The first song on the album is the Celtic-and harmony-heavy “Here Tonight,” a charming duet with his daughter Gracie that at least adds some diversity to the dad persona. The honky-tonk title track is similarly nice. It's a pseudo-autobiographical ditty that shows the edge of the ironic bitterness the terrific name suggests, plunging down dirt roads of dusty memory and musings on stardom, emerging with a surprisingly sharp hook. The album goes downhill from there, however, producing a slog of same-feeling tunes that fail to squeeze any real conviction from the twangs and riffs they conjure up. It’s beyond cliché at this point to say that all country music sounds the same, but here McGraw seems unable, or unwilling, to challenge that idea; there is little, if anything, that feels surprising or new.
Indeed, there once was a time when the words “Everything except rap and country,” were the go-to bon mots of the calculatedly disinterested, the lazy recourse to replace staking out any musical opinion. Nowadays, with rap megastars like Drake and Kanye headlining festivals and blowing up arenas, and previous country darling Taylor Swift departing for pop-ier pastures, the fight to avoid instant cultural dismissal has passed to the likes of Tim McGraw. If his offering for continued relevance is Damn Country Music, then that is a damn shame.
“Here Tonight,” “Damn Country Music.”
Exactly what you would expect.
You Should Listen If:
You already like Tim McGraw. Everyone else, steer clear.