Sound — 9
You have to spend money to make money. This CD is as slick as a moss-covered rock on the banks of the Mississippi river. The much anticipated release was marketed to perfection and packed with star-power leaving me wishing that budget and gross return dollars for CDs were published in the way Hollywood movie's numbers are. Not that I dislike ear-candy, in fact I'm a sucker for studio-schmaltz, but if your thing is the gritty raw sound of John Lee Hooker performing solo live, then this might not be your plate of grits. "Signed to Curb Records since 1992, McGraw has released ten studio albums, three compilation albums, and fifty-four singles for the label. McGraw's highest-certified albums are 1994's 'Not A Moment Too Soon' and 2000's 'Greatest Hits', at 6 Multi-Platinum certification each. Seven of his nine studio albums have also reached Number One on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart." Curb (who fought to keep him) must be sorry to see the move to Big Machine Records, but for Tim, joining the likes of Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift can't be all bad. The first two prerelease singles have performed impressively. The tacky rock-tinged "Truck Yeah" peaked at #11, and the soulful "One Of Those Nights" made #3 on Billboard's "Hot Country Songs", and March 9th 2013 hit #1 on my preferred chart, Bob Kingsley. In a recent interview on "Hear & Now" with Stokes Nielson, Tim likened the memory-packed rendition to Bob Segar's "Night Moves", and openly hoped to touch "a broad spectrum of people". This philosophy shows the artists positive perspective with regard to the importance of crossover appeal in Country music today. More traditional fans might appreciate the melancholy "The Book Of John", and "Number 37405" as well as the standardized "Nashville Without You". The most-anticipated track "Highway Don't Care" featuring Taylor Swift's solid vocal interpretation and supporting harmonies and Keith Urban's soaring albeit slightly canned solos will rocket up the charts now that it has finally been released. Even L. (my partner in crime) who loves show tunes and traditional jazz and sports a Masters in music education bought the single MP3 from iTunes! Placing the heart-felt melodic "Annie I Owe You A Dance" on the up-sell version ($13.49, Amazon at the moment) is a testament to the market-savvy moves that still leave Big Machine with an uphill climb to recoup overhead in my estimation. Spend the money, it's the best song on the collection. Tim will probably have to earn his keep with butts in the seats, as everyone else does these days on his up-coming tour April 8th through August 4th 2013. The wild card is the title cut itself. Will they release "Two Lanes Of Freedom" as a single? I think yes. It has seemingly Celtic influences that can more easily be attributed to American folk music or "Old Time" Hillbilly music. The song has a wall of sound approach that fills the air but I tire quickly of the repetition. The C chord drone sounds cool on the 6th fret, but my poor left hand, ouch! I should just loop it and play fills.
Lyrics — 7
Tim stopped drinking in 2008, and now has 5 years, and I think he has his head squarely on his shoulders and a sharp eye for music displayed in this effort. His voice certainly sounds strong. He has learned to focus energy to singing and stage performing and still balances family dedication to his wife Faith Hill and 3 daughters according to Great American Country Television, a Nashville based television network who additionally appointed him Artist of the Month accolades in February, 2013. The Lyrics follow fairly typical country music patterns of undying love ("Highway Don't Care"), which of course could drive one to run for the open road ("Two Lanes Of Freedom"), heavy drinking ("Mexicoma") and melancholia ("Book Of John" & "Number 37405"). This leaves me scratching my head over claims of innovation from the press. The music has fresh influences, however penned simply as poetry and devoid of harmony and melody, any thinking person would say, "yup, that's a country song".
Overall Impression — 9
I have a lot of fun playing these songs. No matter what my mood, I can find a track from this album to suit me. Technically there is variety as well. If I feel like a bit of a challenge, the rhythm arrangement from "Annie I Owe You A Dance" is there, if I feel like playing a country rock solo, Keith Urban's contribution will suffice, and for a unique arrangement and vocal part, "Highway Don't Care" defies definition. Is it a round, layered vocals? No classification fits which is cool. If polished contemporary country hits and pop appeal are your thing, this CD is a "must-own" and a "must replace".