Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
The banjo comes first out of the speakers, the opening strains of "Overrated," the lead-off song on Tim McGraw's latest. But with a "1-2-3-4" count, the mood changes and goes for a more modern country approach. McGraw does about the same on the follow-up "City Lights" with Michael Landau's steely, but rocking lead guitar taking over near the conclusion as it does later hard on "Sick of Me" where the protagonist contemplates a need to turn his life around.
McGraw opts for a more country vibe on the fast-paced single "Shotgun Rider" with his assured, but smooth vocals. "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools" steps back sonically with acoustic guitars and Dan Dugmore's steel guitar underpinning the song on which Catherine Dunn sings backing harmonies. The song is easily one of the most affecting among the 18 on the deluxe edition (the regular set ends with 13).
There are no particularly weak tunes ("Portland, Maine" is a bit too low-key and the soulful "I'm Feelin' Too" is borderline generic at best and sounds like it was an extra song not ready for the regular version), but there are no songs that particularly make you stand up and take notice either.
And why McGraw and long-time co-producer Byron Gallimore opted for loops and fiddling with his vocals to give them an electronic sound ("Lookin' For That Girl" and "I'm Feelin' You") or the thwack drumming sound ("Still on the Line") detract from McGraw's delivery. The guy has been around the block a few times and such sounds of modernity don't cut it. In fact, just the opposite.
McGraw gets soulful on the well done "Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs," which he does with Kid Rock as the first of five bonus songs on the deluxe version. The "hoo hoo" vocals and staccato and steely guitar licks work well.
Sundown Heaven Town" comes off as a safe set of songs for McGraw. It's country enough with mandolin and banjo dotting his musical landscape, but with modern touches. McGraw ultimately plays it both ways, trying to satisfy various constituencies. And with a distinct voice and generally quality songs, mission accomplished.