Sunday, March 03, 2013

Country strong

album review

Country megastar Tim McGraw delivers another signature album for his die-hard fans, while peppering the album with a few mainstream moments to draw in new listeners

Artist: Tim McGraw
Album: Two Lanes of Freedom

One of the biggest names in country music for the last two decades, Tim McGraw has had a string of number one albums, won numerous awards, and sold millions of records. The last few years have also seen him make his presence felt as an actor, appearing in films such as The Blind Side (2009) and Country Strong (2010). But his recent album, Emotional Traffic, was also the subject of a dispute; a feud with his record company derailed the release of the album, which eventually came out in 2012 after a legal battle and years of delays. Now, joining forces with a new label and reclaiming his independence, the singer returns with his twelfth record Two Lanes of Freedom.

The country superstar sounds both relaxed and confident on the new set, as the tracks meander through varying combinations of country, pop, and rock. An army of songwriters churns out lyrics and tunes, and, as always, McGraw proves that he knows how to pick the right songs that fit his personality and compliment his vocal strengths. His voice meets pianos, guitars, strings, and horns over the course of the 11 songs on the record, as he delivers another set of tracks that are likely to keep him atop the country charts. Longtime producer Byron Gallimore once again joins forces with McGraw to produce a satisfying collection of contemporary country music.

The tracks on Two Lanes of Freedom benefit from the instrumental flourishes that adorn them. A mix of up-tempo and mid-tempo songs is on offer here, although the latter generally outweigh the former. From the lively romp of the instantly catchy (albeit a tad inane) first single 'Truck Yeah' and the Ben Folds' reminiscent 'Mexicoma' to 'Book of John', a touching ballad about a lost loved one, and the open road tune about “drivin' and dreamin'” on an “old country road” in the form of the title track and album opener 'Two Lanes of Freedom', there is the usual amount of variation in pace and subject matter here. There is also the requisite duet, 'Highway Don't Care', that sees the singer harmonize with Taylor Swift; Keith Urban assists by adding a soaring guitar solo to the track. But the song that really stands out is 'Nashville Without You', a sweet ode to the classic country songs that have defined Nashville; it's a breezy and effortless tribute to the tracks that built Music City, and its simple sincerity makes it the highlight of the album.

The singer doesn't take many chances on the record, and perhaps that is why the songs in the mid-tempo category sometimes come off as middling and could have made use of better hooks or been structurally more interesting. But McGraw's vocal prowess and sincerity generally rescues the tracks that might have otherwise come off as somewhat bland.

Overall, Two Lanes of Freedom is exactly what you would expect a Tim McGraw album to be like - it's well sung, slickly produced, and possess commercial appeal. The record also shows that McGraw can pull off both offbeat ('Truck Yeah') and simple but gorgeous ('Nashville Without You') songs, and knows how to deliver with sincerity the tunes that have been written by different songwriters. But it never quite strays too far from his established sound. Country music fans will enjoy the set, especially those who appreciate lush balladry and poignant storytelling.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 3rd March, 2013

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