Say What? Classic – Tim McGraw

Here’s what Tim McGraw told New Country Magazine after his third album, All I Want, was released to surprising critical acclaim in 1995:

If 10 albums from now, it’s not better than this one, I shouldn’t be making them.

That’s a lofty goal, isn’t it? I think that just about every McGraw album released since All I Want has been of higher quality, but I don’t know that I’d argue that each one was better than the last. But is that ever true about any artist?

The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Kathy Mattea.  I think that her recent run of Roses, Joy For Christmas Day, Right Out of Nowhere, and Coal have shown significant growth from one set to next.

Can you think of any artist with a decently long career that has consistently improved from album to album?


  1. I, personally feel, that Brad Paisley has done this…although I know most of you would disagree.

    Would day the same of Keith Urban, but while I enjoyed “Defying Gravity”, I felt it was not good as LP&CT or “Be Here”.

    Just my opinion though :)

  2. Patty Loveless – from “If My Heart Had Windows” through “Long Stretch of Lonesome” – each album was better than the one before (although at some point, her albums became so good that improvement was probably only marginal).

  3. well I have all of Tim’s music and I honestly think the best ones were “a place in the sun”and “Everywhere” but it is only because my favorite songs are on those albums.Tim continues to improve in singing and entertaining,in my mind,anyway!

  4. LeAnn Rimes has improved with each album; disregarding “I Need You”, which was never endorsed by LeAnn as an official studio album.

  5. I don’t think there is really an artist that people can really agree on that has released an album that’s always outdone that previous one, but I think artists that have been around for a while do have a period of years where they do improve from their previous.

    Reba, for example had many albums in the 80’s that topped the previous for the most part, but by the mid-90’s that trend had kinda stopped. Then she had a period of time from the mid to late 90’s to early-2000’s where her albums weren’t really improving from the next. Then she released her Room To Breathe album in 2003 which was an improvement IMO, and all her other studio albums have kinda improved or have been pretty consistent from that time to the present.

    So I think most artists do have a period of years where they improve from the previous album till they reach a peak, and then may have a couple of not so great albums but then bounce back. Although what is considered an improvement is up to opinon.

  6. …dwight yoakam springs to my mind. brad paisley absolutely qualifies. lee ann womack, miranda lambert and taylor swift are having good runs so far.

  7. No one with more than five albums released

    Even Kathy Mattea has had some up and down albums – I loved COAL but wasn’t that impressed with some of the ones immediately before it

    Merle Haggard had a stretch during 1965-1971 when he seemed to be developing with each release but that ended with the release of LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT A SONG, a very good album but not quite as good as the album before it

  8. Interesting you chose Kathy Mattea as I’m sitting here listening to her on the Grand Ole Opry. She just sang “Love at the Five and Dime” and I was thinking how much I LOVED her early work. The albums mentioned as “growth” are honestly where she lost me. Give me Kathy’s ’80s/ early ’90s work any day.

  9. Some Others:

    Dixie Chicks
    Toby Keith (earlier work)

    I know everyone will blast me for this (*ducks*)
    but I think some of the earlier Rascal Flatts records were pretty strong. Their self-tittled album, Melt, Feels Like Today and even Me And My Gang were solid albums, in my opinion.

    Although I was lost at “Still Feels Good,” I would argue there is some decent material among it as well (although a pretty weak album as a whole.)

    This is sort of unrelated, but I’ll be interested to see where Carrie Underwood ends up in terms of solid albums when she has been recording a few more years. “Some Hearts was undoubtdly solid, Carmival Ride was stronger vocally but weaker lyrically, and I think Play On lands somewhere in between, in that Carrie takes risks with her voice and shows her songwriting, but the songs are entirely hit or miss.

  10. I would say Trisha Yearwood with her first 5 studio albums. Definitely Garth Brooks with his first 6 studio albums too, though most people wouldn’t agree with that. George Strait also had periods where his albums got better and better, then kind of plateaued. Reba also has the same sort of up and down trend if you look at a timeline of her discography. You’d think that almost every artist would continue to improve with time, but that’s hardly ever the case. Randy Travis could never top his debut album, for instance.

  11. I agree with J.R. Journey that Trisha did grow considerably over her first five albums; then she flattened out with WHERE YOUR ROAD LEADS (which I thought was unusually weak for her), and improved again in 2000 with REAL LIVE WOMAN. It’s just very hard, however, simply to maintain a high level of artistic success from album to album, let alone improve on them (IMHO).

  12. My trouble with McGraw’s improvement is that while quality might be good, the country isn’t. He was at his best when he was releasing 90’s hits that sounded country like Everywhere, Not a Moment Too Soon, Down on the Farm, Don’t Take the Girl, etc… With each album he has lost his country sound a little bit. So yes, you can say there has been improvement, but at the same time realize that unlike guys like Brad Paisley, Josh Turner or Joe Nichols he hasn’t stood up for country music by playing it and instead chosen to be another pop star in the mix with his albums.

  13. I’d agree with Mike about Tim McGraw’s sound changing. The last great album he had was Set This Circus Down. Once I got to the cover of Tiny Dancer on Dancehall Doctors, it’s been very hit or miss with his albums. I still love certain songs of the newer ones, but I don’t play the whole thing start to finish like I do with his earlier work. As far as artists improving album to album, Nickel Creek comes to mind first, but they only had 3 releases commercially (not including the GH album). But if you account for Little Cowpoke and Here to There, they were better each time out.

  14. Tim McGraw seems almost “ashamed” of his country music following/roots. He does sound like he wants to appeal more to the LA/Hollywood/Rock music scene instead of having both feet firmly planted in Nashville. It was just this past year with the DREADFUL song he performed at the CMA’s where he comes pandering back to his country audience. He would rather have Hollyweird on his arm but doesn’t hesitate to crawl back to Nashville waiting for him at home.

  15. Hi Kevin,

    I think it does become quiet hard after a few albums to maintain a certain standard or quality in the music you produce let alone the growth. However, it’s true that if it’s a good artist, after gaining certain experience with music, the standard should improve. I really love Tim McGraw and all his albums have been great so far so he surely meant what he said.

  16. Mike says:

    “My trouble with McGraw’s improvement is that while quality might be good, the country isn’t.”

    I agree with that but I think that while artists tend to change or develop, their fans may not or their taste change in a different direction.

    So the original question “Can you think of any artist with a decently long career that has consistently improved from album to album?” can only really be answered on a technical or general popularity level

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