Friday, February 15th, 2013
Two Lanes of Freedom
Though Tim McGraw's music was among the best to be heard on country radio in the late nineties and early two thousands, recent years have seen his choice of material embarking on a gradual downward slide before bottoming out entirely with last year's Curb Records swan song Emotional Traffic. With McGraw's recent output being what it is, and with him now being in the clutches of Scott Borchetta, it's hard to approach Two Lanes of Freedom with high expectations.
Produced by McGraw with longtime collaborator Byron Gallimore, Two Lanes of Freedom is several degrees better than Emotional Traffic, but still heavily bogged down by cheap gimmickry, and by McGraw's increasing tendency to over-dramatize. The opening title track, for instance, could have been enjoyable by virtue of melody and performance, but it's all but leveled by distorted “Oh-oh-oh” chants that surface in each chorus, and that comprise a bloated, self-indulgent ending fade-out. Love-gone-wrong ballads “Friend of a Friend” and the Taylor Swift duet “Highway Don't Care” (featuring Keith Urban on guitar) are decent songs, but both are marred by over-the-top string sections and gaudy electric guitar solos.
It should hardly come as a surprise that Two Lanes of Freedom includes serious lapses in songwriting quality, with the nadir of the project being the indefensible “Truck Yeah,” and the middling current single “One of Those Nights not faring significantly better. “Southern Girl” is plain sloppy, recycling pandering formulas similar to those behind “Southern Voice,” and capping it off with auto-tuned chants of “Southern girl, rock my world….” Can any songwriter expect to be taken seriously when rhyming “girl” with “rock my world”?
At its best, Two Lanes of Freedom offers sporadic glimpses of the subtlety and sincerity that marked McGraw's best work. But even when McGraw brings the goods as a vocalist, the quality of the song material often comes up frustratingly short. Though a paean to the country music industry and its history could in theory be great, it's unfortunate that “Nashville Without You” leans on the clutch of listing classic country song titles from “Crazy” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” to “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “Fancy” – particularly considering that it's one of the album's most tastefully produced cuts. “Book of John” is a bit better, telling a finely detailed story of a character poring over photo album memories of a deceased loved one, but its title hook grasps at a gratuitous connection to the Biblical gospel of John, to which the bulk of the song's content is unrelated. The best-written song of the lot is “Number 37405,” which explores the consequences of a man's decision to drink and drive with the gentle plainspoken tone of “Red Ragtop,” and without the preachy condescension of “Nothin' to Die For.” The lyric smartly refrains from offering an ultimate resolution to the story, while McGraw and Gallimore mercifully dial back the production. It's the closest representation the album has to offer of the Tim McGraw that once was.
Though Two Lanes of Freedom has its moments that are genuinely not half bad, the unevenness of the project as a whole offers little reason to believe that the Tim McGraw who gave us Everywhere, Set This Circus Down, and Live Like You Were Dying is likely to fully resurface anytime soon – and even if Tim McGraw were to make a return to form, it's highly unlikely that Scott Borchetta would be the one to facilitate it.
Top Tracks: “Book of John,” “Number 37405″
Buy: Two Lanes of Freedom
Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
Great hooks have become a dying breed in mainstream country music. It seems every other single review I write includes criticism for a hook that falls flat. Exhibit A: Tim McGraw’s new single.
“One of Those Nights” could be seen as a step up from “Truck Yeah” – though that’s probably the epitome of a hollow compliment. The production is heavy, and hardly country at all, but it generally avoids becoming a distraction until the overwrought finish. (A gospel choir? Really?) The lyrics aren’t particularly original – a backwoods love story the likes of which we’ve heard a few times before - but they’re laced with a few details that lend a degree of interest to the story.
Yet the one thing about the song that I just can’t get over is the way it keeps repeating the phrase “This is gonna be one of those nights” as if it’s somehow significant. It doesn’t summarize the content of the song in any meaningful way. It doesn’t convey anything deeper than what it says on the surface, and it’s not especially interesting or
clever. A better hook could have compensated to some extent for the generally uninspiring lyrical content, but the way it is, there’s precious little for the listener to grab onto.
No matter how charitable I try to be in discussing Tim McGraw’s new song, “One of Those Nights” simply offers nothing to get excited about. I miss the days when I could get excited about Tim McGraw’s music, and I highly doubt that Scott Borchetta is going to be the one to bring those days back.
Listen: One of Those Nights
Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
Country superstar Reba McEntire has ended her 25-year association with MCA Nashville and signed with the Valory Music Co. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The move reunites 2007 Billboard Woman of the Year McEntire with Scott Borchetta, now president & CEO of Big Machine Records and the Valory Music Co. Borchetta was senior VP of promotion at MCA Nashville during most of the ’90s.
“I am thrilled to be joining the Valory team,” McEntire says. “Scott and I worked together on some of the biggest singles of my career, and I am excited to renew our partnership.”
“It is as if a day hasn’t even passed,” Borchetta adds. “The toughest thing about leaving MCA Nashville again was leaving behind this relationship that I value so much.”
The announcement comes roughly a year after the launch of Valory. The label is home to Jewel, Emerson Drive and Jimmy Wayne, among others. Sister label Big Machine is home to Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood and Jack Ingram, among others. Both labels are distributed by Universal Music Distribution.
McEntire’s debut single on Valory will ship to country radio in early spring 2009, with her new studio album to follow later that summer. The artist crowned her MCA tenure with a three-disc boxed set, “50 Greatest Hits,” released late last month.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about this is that Reba’s coming off of her most successful album in years, the all-genre #1 Reba Duets. This isn’t quite on the scale of Madonna’s Live Nation deal, which also encompassed touring revenues, or Garth Brooks’ ‘take the masters with you’ approach, or even the start-your-own-label path of Toby Keith. But it’s certainly huge news that one of the biggest country stars of all-time is choosing to leave her label home of 25 years, all while still at the top of her game.
And what to say of MCA, the label that was once king of kings on Music Row? Trisha Yearwood already left, and now Reba McEntire has followed her out the door. Will George Strait and Vince Gill be far behind? Can Universal’s majors get by on Sugarland alone? What if Shania Twain crunches the numbers and realizes the label group needs her far more than she needs them, especially given their spotty record at getting her on the radio?
Perhaps the entire Music Row structure truly is the Titanic, and Sony BMG has all the first-class seats.
Tags: Emerson Drive, George Strait, Jack Ingram, Jewel, Reba McEntire, Scott Borchetta, Shania Twain, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill