Music Review: Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaventown

Cover Of Sundown Heaven Town AlbumTim McGraw is back to his old form on the first-half of Sundown Heaven Town and I love it. After being disappointed with Southern Voices and Emotional Traffic, Tim gets back to the music of his that I like best; the kind of music that you can play up at a country bar and dance around the hardwood floor with your partner. The kind that his voice rides like a lazy river on a warm spring day.

Tim’s voice has a certain smoothness when paired up with the right song. Those were the type of songs Tim was born to sing and they are what he does best. The more current, modern hick-hop or Brocountry songs just don’t mesh as well with his voice. The roughness of his voice comes out. ‘City Lights’, ‘Shotgun Rider’, ‘Words are Medicine’ all fall into the former category, while a song like ‘Looking for that Girl’, and, to an extent, ‘Keep on Trucking’ fall into the latter. 

‘Words are Medicine’ is a tune which shows where modern can meet older school country and work. The lyrics are a little bit more of a mash-up rhyme like you would expect to hear in hick-hop, but they are set within a tune that carries you along with it vs. cuts up the music in see-saw or tug-and-pull way. ‘Medicine’ is also a good example of McGraw’s voice being buttercream smooth when paired with a good tune. About a little over half-way through the album the songs start toward more popish sounding.

The most electronic of these is ‘Looking for that Girl.’ It’s a tune that was destined for crossover play. ‘Keep on Trucking’ is a hick-hop tinged tune that after a few listens does manage to become catchy. ‘Last Turn Home’ and ‘Still on the Line’ fall into the power ballard genre, but I did not think either was powerful enough to stick with me. ‘Portland, Maine’ has a folksy feel to it with its acoustic, guitar instrumental. None of the songs on this section of the album are stinkers, but they are not real standouts either.

Those are reserved for the more standard-sounding Tim catelouge which starts off the album.

My favorite in these tunes is ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.’ A slow lament over the lover with whom you just couldn’t make it work:

I guess some things don’t mix like you hope/
Like you and me/
And Diamond Rings and Old Barstools

I love the slow, measured beat of the song. I love the pick of the strings which is featured prominently. I love the reflective message that comes both from the sadness and the slang of the lyric’s outlook.

‘Barstools’ features background vocals which sound an awful lot like Faith Hill, but are surprisingly not. The female artist paired up with Tim to flesh out this song is Catherine Dunn, which was a surprise to me. I expected Faith Hill. Dunn sure has the same kind of soaring voice as Faith. I’d be looking forward to hearing Faith sing this song with Tim in concert sometime if Catherine Dunn was not available.

‘Dust’ is another that I enjoyed. An ode to living in the way out; in the dirt road part of the country. The song takes a different approach in its lyrics as a love letter to a small town:

Rolling in the wind/
You can see it in the air…
…Coming up in cloud behind a one-way plow…

…When the moon comes up it kinda settles on down/
But we stir it back up when we’re riding around/
Dust on the top of an old beer can/
Before I take a sip I wipe it off with my hand…

…She can spot me coming a mile away…

/Dust in the rearview heading to see her…
..Dust on the my boots/
Dust on the truck/
Probably got a little running in my blood…

…Everything I know/
Everything I love/
Is covered up in dust

I always enjoy a new take on a old subject. With the sometimes tiring cycle of pick-up trucks, small-town-pride and drinking songs on the airwaves, it’s good to hear something that still covers what you love from a new perspective.

‘Sick of Me’ falls into the new-view category as well. This song covers the typical pining for an ex after the breakup. You know the routine: sleeping-in until the wee hours of the afternoon, regretting the reckless, took-’em-for-granted behavior. This song covers those clichés with an up-tempo beat. This juxtaposes the lyrics with the tune; giving it a bit of a feel of lightness to it and self-deprecation.

It’s a song that I don’t think too may artists could carry off. Tim has the right quality to bring this song’s marriage of message and melody together.

Being a quite catchy tune, I expect that there will be a few fans who listen to ‘Sick of Me’ without realizing they are singing a post-break up song. Regrets have never been quite so catchy.

The photos that come with the CD booklet do not look good, so, I won’t post any here. The photographer chose to photograph Tim using some harsh, washed-out light that looks like it comes from below. They photos age Tim; highlighting every line around his eyes and giving him turkey neck in some shots.

Tim is coming up on 50 in a few years, but as evidenced by his Men’s Health shoot, he’s still a looker. He’s still someone you wouldn’t kick out of bed for eating crackers.

While not hiding from your age is admirable, and we all should celebrate and be proud of how we look at any age, these photos look as though whoever took them chose to make Tim look bad. It is a shame they did not photo him in a much more flattering way. It would be more truthful than the photos we have currently.

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