Tim McGraw doesn't follow country trends.
Sure, he keeps up-to-date production-wise. But on "Damn Country Music" (McGraw Music/Big Machine), his 14th studio album, McGraw refuses to join his Nashville contemporaries in narrowing their focus to a single, very successful, radio-friendly style. And there's not a bro-down in sight.
"Damn Country Music" is all over the musical map, from the classic country of the weeper "Don't Make Me Feel at Home" to the driving rock of "Losin' You," with its "Joshua Tree"-era U2 guitar work. He takes a swing at the indie-folk of Mumford & Sons on "Here Tonight," with his daughter Gracie McGraw singing lovely harmonies. He even mines a soul groove on the loping "Everybody's Lookin'."
And somehow, McGraw does all of it well, using his easy country charm and warm, welcoming delivery to get his points across.
However, McGraw is at his best with a big, emotional ballad and he has a masterpiece to work with here. "Humble and Kind," written by Lori McKenna, is a gorgeous bit of advice -- in this case, from a father to his children, but it's really pretty universal, on the scale of Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance."
"Hold the door, say 'please,' say 'thank you,' don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie," McGraw explains in the chorus, before offering up the words of wisdom, "Know the difference between sleepin' with someone and sleepin' with someone you love."
McGraw delivers this advice with just the right amount of emotion, the right balance between preaching and suggestion. It's a balancing act that he manages in the yearning title track of "Damn Country Music," which mixes pride in his genre with a bit of powerlessness.
There's a lot of debate in country music about authenticity and believability, but McGraw doesn't need to be part of that either. There's never a question that he walks the talk.
THE GRADE B+