Tim McGraw comes back strong in ‘Sundown Heaven Town’

By Steven Gillard

(Courtesy of WEZL Charleston's Best Country/Flickr)
(WEZL Charleston’s Best Country/Flickr)

Tim McGraw’s 13th studio album, “Sundown Heaven Town,” released Sept. 16, is another solid addition to the country star’s already impressive resume.
Spearheaded by the hit single, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” a relatable, nostalgic song about the simplicity of home complemented by an even simpler guitar, McGraw’s newest album is an emotional rollercoaster that explores both the lows of heartbreak and the highs of love.
“Last Turn Home” shines as one of the strongest tracks on the album. It is a simple ballad that artfully likens a lover’s embrace to the satisfying feeling of pulling your car around the corner and into the driveway after a long time away. “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” a duet with Catherine Dunn, is pure poetry that examines a failed relationship in which the two lovers – unlike “whiskey and Coke” – just don’t mix.
While McGraw is a versatile artist with hit singles that have covered everything from terminal illness to parties on farms, he is at his best when his songs are stories, embodying a raw sense of heartbreak and regret.
Although “Sundown Heaven Town” is definitely an improvement over his 2013 album, “Two Lanes of Freedom,” few songs contain the hard-hitting emotional resonance that characterized much of his earlier hits such as “Don’t Take the Girl,” “Angry All the Time” and “Just to See You Smile.”
The track “Portland, Maine” is one example of this successful storytelling, as McGraw chronicles a lover’s decision to break off a relationship instead of dealing with the constant worry that comes with long-distance love. The desperation in “Still on the Line” also evokes hints of classic McGraw, as does “Sick of Me” through McGraw’s honest portrayal of a flawed man coming to terms with his mistakes.
However, “Keep on Truckin’” and “Lookin’ for That Girl” lack inspiration, as the tracks embody two overdone themes in today’s country music: pushing through hell and finding the perfect girl. Additionally, “Dust” sounds like every other country song dedicated to trucks, girls and dirt.
“Overrated” also fails to deliver with its cliché line, “Love is really all we need,” and while “Words Are Medicine” has good intentions, its lyrics fail to hit as hard as some of McGraw’s older, similarly-themed tracks.
“Shotgun Rider,” on the other hand, succeeds as the best upbeat song on the album. It is a feel-good love song in which McGraw explains that he would never want anyone else riding shotgun, listening to the radio with him. “City Lights” stands out as the most classic country-sounding song on the entire album, although its lyrics are not terribly unique.
The deluxe edition of the album, which features five additional tracks, is worth buying if only for the songs, “Kids Today” and “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs.” The former is a testament to the craziness, stupidity and ultimate blamelessness of youth, while the latter is a rocking, carefree tribute to cars and all-American girls, featuring Kid Rock.
With the beer-drinking, girl-chasing anthems of Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line defining much of the genre today, McGraw’s music remains diverse and refreshing – with a pleasant mix of thoughtful and lighthearted tracks – even if his sound has developed a slight pop flair to keep up with the constantly transforming genre.
Despite its weaknesses, McGraw’s 13th album, “Sundown Heaven Town,” succeeds because of its wholly country foundation, painting an honest portrait of life – both the good and the bad.

Steven Gillard can be reached at [email protected]