Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan & The Band Perry’s Emotional Traffic Tour

Country Boys, Shake It For Me

You could tell that Tim McGraw was going to play to a capacity crowd in Pittsburgh on July 30, because the right lane of Route 22 was back up for a mile with concert-goers in pick-up trucks patiently edging along to take the Burgettstown exit.

It was a perfect night for a concert; not only because it was a Saturday — which as Luke Bryan noted meant that we could really party and not worry abut getting up for work in the morning (what about getting up for church, huh?) — but because it was one of those midsummer nights with a beautiful sunset taking the sizzling heat off the day, and a sky so clear it was as if all the stars in the heavens had been commandeered for stage lighting.

The Hype Doesn’t Lie

The 23,000-strong throng consisted, predictably, largely of ladies, given that this concert featured a band popular with girls, and two heartthrobs. The Band Perry, who exploded onto the scene last year, clearly understood that they owe their success to the song “If I Die Young” which the crowd sung along with enthusiastically.

A Little Frisky

Luke Bryan performed a satisfyingly long set that included all of his hits and demonstrated ably why his star too is on the rise. Last year’s ACM Top New Artist knows what performing is all about, deftly wiggling his ass not just during his set but in the evening’s high point, where his simulated sex moves brought the house down as he dueted on "Back When" with Tim McGraw.

He’s a handsome man, all lean muscle, built very much like McGraw, in fact, an attribute that can’t hurt. He also knows his fans and what they like, a short list of things that includes Girls, Hunting, and Beer. He’s a country man and sings about things country folk know — and at shows like this, where the venue is far enough outside town to attract a mainly rural audience —that goes a long way. What he also knows is that though his fan base is going to have a large female component, he can’t neglect the guys, so while the girls get the ass-wiggling, the dudes get AC/DC riffs from his axe-grinding guitarists, and an homage to metal, with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” making an appearance, which, frankly, rocked.

 How Do You Do It? Something Like That

It’s not unusual nowadays for singers to venture out into the crowd to sing a few numbers for the up-close-and-personal touch. Brad Paisley did it to great effect last year, and so does Taylor Swift. But it tends to happen half-way through the show, so the band can take a break or hang back a bit. Not so Tim McGraw, who opened by singing two songs at a mic right among the folks who got decent, but not great, seats. (How d'you like 'em now?) While last year at the same venue he saved most of his giant hits (the ones he cannot leave off the set list) for the encore, this time around he kicked off with “Something Like That” which meant that he was almost drowned out by the crowd singing along.

McGraw and his long-time band The Dancehall Doctors don’t have too much truck with fancy stage sets, preferring to simply deliver songs, one after the other, all night long. Last night’s show was being broadcast live on Sirius satelite radio, and knowing that appeared to make the crowd do their best to be heard roaring their approval and singing along with an alarming gusto — so much so that McGraw often let the audience sing, and showed his admiration for our (admittedly superb) efforts with much non-verbal chest pumping and smiling, not something that you can see on radio, but which works great in person.

Despite this, McGraw was not in best shape; a recently broken foot prevented him from engaging on most of the hip-swaggering moves he usually makes, though not from gently covering the stage as he walked about. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he told us. “Faith looks damn good in a nurse’s uniform.” One always wonders (hopes) that his wife, Faith Hill, will make a surprise appearance for one of their duets, but this year, as last, it was not to be. His voice also seemed rough for the first several songs (head cold? Pain medication? Old age?). Fortunately, McGraw’s voice warmed up as the show progressed, and he delivered a very fine rendition of The Commodores’ “Sail On,” which he recorded recently with Lionel Richie. He wasn’t sure the crowd would be old enough to remember it —he’s 44 — and they may not have been. The Inky Jukebox (who is the same age) sure does though.

The odd thing that marks the Emotional Traffic Tour is that McGraw does not have an album to promote. This is due to a contract dispute with his label, who has not released it. Nevertheless, he played several of the songs from it — all of which hinted at how great the unheard album is — throughout the night, clearly deeply irked that we cannot enjoy it beyond the live show. This is not the first time McGraw and his label have been at odds (he disowned the third Greatest Hits record – which contained no hits – and rightly so).

The Inky Jukebox appreciates that whoever drew up his set list took a look back at what he performed last year and chose different songs; after all, he’s going to be playing to people who faithfully come out every time he passes through. This time he dug deep, going all the way back to early in his career, and he has a long career from which to select songs. One thing he can’t really do differently though is save the best for last, and again, he did just that, the opening strains of “Live Like You Were Dying” humming in the dark as we awaited the encore. He delivered his signature song simply, giving it his all at the mic stand, seemingly aware that if the global audience listening in live were going to climb on his bandwagon, he ought to act like he was in the studio on this one. The Inky Jukebox wonders if all those folks listening in on their radios could hear us singing our hearts out to every word as if our lives depended on it.

Probably, yes. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels

A Trio of Trouble

Holy Smokes, y’all — there’s a new sheriff in town and her name’s Annie. Actually, there’s three of ‘em and they’re all named Annie and if you so much as look at ‘em wrong they’s gonna shoot you dead right there on the spot and take your car, your credit cards, your boots and your dog and take a joyride out of town to some Hollywood spa for facials and maybe, just maybe, they’ll stop along the way to pick up a tall, good-looking hitchhiker holding that geetar and play him a tune, I mean play him for a song, I mean play with him until he begs for mercy. Then they’ll push him out the door and head to the bar for whiskey shooters where they will accept your challenge to a karaoke duel but when it’s their turn they will yank that cord right out the wall and sing you one of their numbers instead and yes, they take tips Gawdammit you better fill that upturned hat on the stage and no, you may not go home to your wife and kids until they have finished singing to you and yes, you will like it, you will like it very much indeed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

U2: Not Bad

U2 Comes Full Circle in Pittsburgh

U2 ended their show in Pittsburgh last night by playing an extra-long version of their classic song "Bad" which is best delivered live. Here it is.

The Inky Jukebox was not at the show at Heinz Field, but folks she knows who went say it rocked. The Inky Jukebox has a mixed history of attending U2 concerts. Back when The Inky Jukebox was a mere inky teenager, she saw U2 perform at venues so small the stage they use today would not fit in the building. This was back in the Boy / War era, when U2 were still a local band and were loud, brash and hungry. Heck, this was back when the crowd in front of the stage pogo'ed their way through the set and held up actual lighters with fire coming out. This was back when folks still smoked and needed lighters. Now they wave phones with a concert lighter app. It's all very safe and quiet. No-one fears the drunken dudes in bovver boots.

Then U2 started having hits that were on the charts that people actually knew and they played bigger venues - places like London's Wembley Arena, which I believe held 12,000. For many years that was the loudest concert The Inky Jukebox had ever heard, Adam Clayton's bass literally rising up through the floor to rattle your bones. Bono was in full voice then, and the biggest songs that got the crowd roaring were things like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" because U2 were still pretending to be a punk band.

Then U2 went to America and played on rooftops and sought inspiration in the desert and whatnot and the game was up: you couldn't see them but in a stadium a million miles away from the stage. They were still an ace band, but the big time changed the way they had to play their shows. This was both good and bad; The Zoo TV tour, as evidenced by the footage, was a remarkable audio-visual event that really used the vastness of the venue to their advantage, both in terms of sound and context. The Inky Jukebox missed that show because she kindly gave up her ticket to an out of town guest and has regretted it ever since.

Because of that snafu, The Inky Jukebox eagerly went to see U2 perform at the old Three Rivers Stadium the next time they came to town, only it was on that Gawdawful tour with the giant lemon, and there was a city ordnance limiting the volume of live open air performances lest they wreck havoc on local's ears, so it was just a disaster. The show was a mess, you couldn't see anything (they hadn't figured out how to employ those huge screens yet), and you actually had to strain to hear over the chatter of the people complaining next to you. Thank goodness this was before the days of camera phones, because that footage would be loco.

Thus is is that The Inky Jukebox decided to give this 360 Tour a miss too. That's too bad, because it was BAD. ASS.

Here's some old footage for your enjoyment. Compare and contrast the 26-year gap. (Awesome mullet!!!)

Eric Church: Country Music Jesus

Hail To The Chief

 If you like your country rockin’ then Eric Church is your man. On Chief, his third full-length album, he sticks to what he does best: being his good old badass self. He lets less room in for the extraordinary ballads that peppered his first two albums in favor of pushing the rock and roll pedal to the floor. A partial exception might be his first single, “Homeboy.”

From the man who brought us “Smoke a Little Smoke,” we have more songs about imbibing; “Drink in my Hand” is about — well, that’s self-explanatory. “Hungover & Hard Up,” on the other hand, is — not hard to decipher, perhaps because “Jack Daniels” apparently kicked his ass last night. The lead track “Creepin’” is also about being hungover. A disastrous marriage results in the bride having a rock (diamond) so “I’m Getting Stoned.” The Inky Jukebox suspects he would have anyway. “Keep On” is a very sexy song that challenges a flirt to follow through, only to have the tables turned once she gets what she wants.

Eric Church preaches to a choir of sinners like him who nevertheless pray hard for their “Country Music Jesus” to come save them. Him or “Springsteen,” anyhow. His fans are deeply committed to tearing it up when the volume is turned up loud through those live amps. It will be interesting to see how he ignites the audience opening for Toby Keith this fall. With this new collection to add to his set list, he should pretty much burn it down, y'all. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brad and Carrie: A Reminder

 Can You Duet?

The duet, “Remind Me” from Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood is out today, y’all. It joins the long list of music videos made in the desert, where for some inexplicable reason the singer carries an electric guitar and starts playing. Here, Brad and Carrie walk towards one another in slow motion, Brad looking like some serious cowboy hottie, and Carrie, wearing a billowy dress that sensibly blows away from her long legs, like a reincarnation of Faith Hill in “Breathe.”

OK, so the desert isn’t supposed to be literal — it represents the arid gulf that has separated our two lovers. The video borrows from an artist named Bill Viola whose extreme slow-mo video installations of people walking towards you in the desert are astonishingly beautiful.

Brad and Carrie are returning as CMA hosts, and this is not the first time they have teamed up for a delicious duet. Sometimes musical partnerships take on a life of their own, and The Inky Jukebox is glad this one’s growing. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Adele: iTunes Festival

If It Hadn't Been For Adele

The Inky Jukebox is a big fan of the bluegrass band The Steel Drivers, so we were thrilled to see them get some proper attention with Adele's magnificent cover at the recent iTunes Festival.

That track is not on the iTunes EP, which consists of six recordings from a larger live set.

Here's "One and Only" form it (with false start!) In case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, here's your answer.

This is not on the EP, but it will be in your head. "Someone Like You" will win the Grammy for song of the year. 

Here she is demonstrating how one can make both a dramatic and humble entrance at the same time.

The iTunes EP does have Adele's cover of Bonnie Raitt's "You Can't Make Me Love You," but it doesn't have this Garth Brooks classic. 

And finally, this:

What an incredible talent. Holy Moly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trampled By Turtles: Victorious

What Are You Waiting For?

The Inky Jukebox accidentally tripped over Trampled By Turtles today —an absolutely divine bluegrass band whose video for "Victory" we found mesmerizing. They don't think of themselves as bluegrass, but come on, fellas.

The Duluth, MN band have released four albums, the latest being Palomino, which features their speed-strumming guitars (beautifully tricked out with fiddles, banjo and mandolin), as well as ballads that remind The Inky Jukebox of Desire-era Dylan, or songs that could be out-takes from Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. If you like The Zac Brown Band, you will LOVE these guys.

There is a serious bluegrass revival underway, people, as evidenced by the popularity of bands like The Punch Brothers, The Avett Brothers, The Steeldrivers, Mumford & Sons, etc. How refreshing it is to hear real music played on real instruments by real musicians.

You can listen to songs By Trampled By Turtles Here:

The Inky Jukebox was once given an overdose of pure codeine, so this one is particularly resonant.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ashton Shepherd: Keepin’ It Rural Where Country Grows

Look It Up

 Ashton Shepherd’s much-anticipated second album, Where Country Grows is released today, and is being celebrated with a super-duper deal from Best Buy, where you can buy it for only $7.99.

The Inky Jukebox wanted to check this out, so conducted a survey of her local Best Buys this morning. Not only did they not stock it, they had never heard of it. Huh. So The Inky Jukebox went to her local Target to see if they were trying to compete, and found that they only had one copy (surely the entire stock had not been bought by 10 AM?) for full price, and it was not even on the new releases rack.

The Inky Jukebox was actually rather pleased by this outcome. Why? Because the temptation to buy the actual CD if it had been at either place, on sale, was too great to pass up. Instead, The Inky Jukebox traded in $12.99 worth of her iTunes reserve and bought the Deluxe Edition online. This version contains four extra songs, some of which are the best songs on the album. It’s also available as a Deluxe Edition download on Amazon for $13.98.

Saving several songs for a deluxe download makes a fan feel a bit cheated, if you really want to know. It goes along with the pre-release four-song EP many companies are putting out now; it used to be that if you bought a single or the EP, then you would not be charged for those tracks when you eventually bought the album they appear on; not no more. Now, if you buy the actual CD (always nice for the higher quality sound), you have to fork over $3.96 more for those online-only tracks. If The Inky Jukebox had indeed found it for $7.99 at Best Buy, that would have worked out at $11.95 (not including tax and gas money). Remember when CDs cost $19.99 and everyone complained? Well, it's inching back up there, y'all. 

Bottom Line: It’s better to take a big bite of that apple, y’all.

This only leaves the problem of what to have Ashton sign when The Inky Jukebox finally meets her. Hmmmm.

This record sounds more produced than her first, the sublime Sounds So Good, but that might be an illusion brought on by the three-year wait. If you like your country old-school, you will like this album; it is chock-full of decent up-beat foot-stompers and ballads. But while there are plenty of great songs (standouts include “Where Country Grows,” “While It Ain’t Rainin,’” “Rory’s Radio,” and “What If It Was”) there are no smack-you-upside-the-head jaw-droppers like — well, every single song on Sounds So Good.

Ashton Shepherd is the real deal; the girl can sing her ass off and gives it her all on each track. By all means, go out and buy Where Country Grows; The Inky Jukebox suspects it will grow on you. But don’t forget to pop Sounds So Good in your cart as well. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Teacher! Leave Those Kids Alone!

Mariachi Floyd

Doesn't it sound like they're saying "no forced orgasms in the classroom"? Yup, thought so.

The Inky Jukebox applauds the Mariachi Cabos for their spirited rendition of a classic.

If you do not love this, then you are dead inside. And in case you don't think they are country enough, there's this:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tonight's The Night

Sugarland Lives It Up

You may recall that The Inky Jukebox wasn't too happy with Sugarland's video for "Tonight," thinking it too overdone; too produced. We argued that sometimes (often) simple is best. In this case, stick to live performances, because that's where country artists shine.

We are delighted to see that today Sugarland has heeded The Inky Jukebox's sage advice and released this video instead:

Worth seeing live. Go do it. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

There Ain't Nothing Montgomery Gentry Doesn't Like About Brooks & Dunn

You Can Never Go Home Again. Oh Wait; Yes You Can

I know we are all saddened by the void left by the retirement of Brooks and Dunn, but that’s no excuse to try to resurrect them by recycling their songs in the guise of your own.

I’m talking to you, Montgomery Gentry.
A preview of their new single “Where I Come From” was released today, and if you’re anything like The Inky Jukebox, you will immediately recognize it. It’s Brooks and Dunn’s “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You” but with different lyrics.

Much as we love Montgomery Gentry, The Inky Jukebox agrees with the Taste of Country reviewer: they’ve already said and done this. Writing homage’s to one’s hometown, or small town life in general has always been a thematic staple in country music, but surely there must be a new way to do it?

Here’s why you love your hometown, a country song primer:

  • It’s off the beaten path
  • The churches are full
  • Everybody knows your name
  • Folks are polite and have traditional values
  • Friends are old and true
  • The coffeeshop / barbershop / diner is the social hub
  • They take their football / fishing / truck driving seriously
  • Your ma and pa live there still
  • There’s a Tastee Freeze
  • It’s where you had your first kiss / crash / fight
  • There is mud

Here are some hometown songs you might know. They are all excellent in their own right and don’t need to be imitated.

Montgomery Gentry “My Town

Kenny Chesney “That’s Where I Grew Up

Justin Moore “Small Town USA

Brooks and Dunn “Red Dirt Road

Josh Thompson “Way Out Here

Little Big Town “Boondocks

Miranda Lambert “Famous in a Small Town

Rascal Flatts “Mayberry

Sugarland “Everyday America

Zac Brown Band “Chicken Fried

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kenny Chesney / Zac Brown Band / Billy Currington / Uncle Kracker

When The Sun Goes Down At Heinz Field...
Going Coastal Tour, Pittsburgh July 2nd, 2011

If you were one of the many thousands of (mostly drunken) people partying your ass off in the bleachers at Heinz Field this Saturday at the marathon Going Coastal extravaganza, you may not have noticed that the entire concrete and steel overhang on which the bleachers rest was bouncing. Of course, if you were as drunk as these folks, solid ground feels like it’s bouncing too. What I’m talking about is the kind of movement you get from an earthquake — one of those “HOLY SHIT! The ground is rocking” moments. This, I can assure you, is immediately followed by the realization that this thought could be your last, as the part of the stadium you are in collapses under circumstances the engineers had not envisioned: Kenny Chesney. Then you come to your senses and think, “Whatev. What a way to go.”

Let The Inky Jukebox tell you something about what happens when Kenny Chesney comes to town. A giant vortex sucks in hardcore party people from several states and deposits them at the stadium, where they tailgate like there’s no tomorrow from the crack of dawn until— well, tomorrow. If your stadium happens to be adjacent to a major waterway, expect to find boats moored 6-deep for miles, with canopies on the boardwalks shading fans who have dedicated themselves to a lifestyle where the dress code is a bikini, cornhole boards are sacred, and redemption can be found at the bottom of a red dixie cup. These people are already a deep brown early in the season, and probably recite the lines to Jimmy Buffett songs in their sleep.

Kenny Chesney’s got a reputation for putting on a hell of a show, and these folks know it. They will have missed out of they waited to enter the stadium until he came on however, because he has three other acts with him that were worth the price of admission alone.

Uncle Kracker breaks the ice with a half-hour set that features everything you’d expect him to sing: all his hits plus a healthy smattering of his well-known covers, including Dobie Grey’s “Drift Away” and Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler.” He also breaks out his good friend Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long,” which drives the crowd nuts.

After a very brief intermission, Nashville hottie Billy Currington takes the stage for a longer set. “Pretty Good At Drinking Beer” in particular appeals to everyone. What sets them on fire though, is a song everyone knew the words to and sings with gusto: “People Are Crazy.” (An Inky Jukebox Top Tip: If you want to write a real crowd-pleaser, include beer and get folks to admit they do insane shit. It’s a winner every time.)

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call this Kenny’s Tour, because it really has two headliners. The Zac Brown Band play a 90-minute set that could very well be an entire show. If you ever get a chance to see them play, DO SO. They are a phenomenal band live, not only because the vocalists’ harmonies are a thing of utter beauty, but because they know how to deliver live tunes peppered and seasoned with extra jams that cleverly blend in covers and other musical styles (in this case, reggae, perfect for summer). These guys also know how to cover a stage, running about from one end to the other like someone stuck a firecracker in their pants. Crowd favorites include the ballads “Highway 20 Ride” and “Colder Weather,” and the summertime ode “Toes.” They had everyone on their feet with their hats to their hearts for “Free” (with “Into The Mystic”), which felt just right, this being Independence Day Weekend. They ended with “Chicken Fried,” the crowd signing along with such rampant enthusiasm it was deafening.

What The Inky Jukebox loved seeing was what a live wire master musician Clay Cook is. When he’s not playing keyboards (“America the Beautiful” brought the house down too) he’s being an Axe God, for which he’s given his due with a long solo played out on the stage extension on a beautiful Les Paul Goldtop. When he plays he puts his whole body into it and makes an awesome guitar face. We also love the new song “Sweet Annie.”

When it’s time for the evening’s big hitter to come on, so does the volume; the opening chords to “Live A Little” echo around the stadium as if it was a glass at a wedding being tapped with a knife to announce a speech; the whole place rings and vibrates. The Inky Jukebox would like to point out at this juncture exactly WHY this is the perfect song to open a concert with; it’s not just that the intro is long, allowing anticipation to build until the inevitable crescendo yanks the curtain up — it’s because it is the introduction to AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” mixed together. Check it out:

Once Kenny hits the stage he does not stop. He sang his guts out for 2 hours and forty minutes, and The Inky Jukebox can safely say it was the loudest show she’s ever experienced (beating previous Loudest honorees WAR-era U2 and Crazyhorse by a mile, which is impressive seeing as The Inky Jukebox was at the opposite end of the field, and it was an open-air venue). This is not simply because the amps were cranked to breaking point, but because they were accentuated by 53,000 people singing along to every single word at the top of their lungs. An hour after the show The Inky Jukebox was still a little deaf.

Interestingly, Chesney didn’t give us much of his latest album, the excellent Hemingway’s Whiskey, filling the set list with a Greatest Hits collection, which STILL only covered half of what he could have included. He saved the superb “The Boys of Fall” for his encore, though this was a show for which the encore was NOT the end; both Uncle Kracker and The Zac Brown Band came back for an extended duet set after Chesney was finished.

Uncle Kracker came back out for “When The Sun Goes Down,” and stayed for a rousing rendition of “Cowboy,” with Chesney taking Kid Rock’s part. The local paper that shall not be named because they sent an intern to cover the show concluded that the tired fans were weary of The Zac Brown Band and Chesney’s monumental closing mash-up that included covers of Steve Miller, Tom Petty and Bob Marley among others, so gave it a weak reception.

Nothing could be further from the truth which is why they should have sent The Inky Jukebox instead; on the contrary, the crowd (most of whom stayed till the very last echo bounced off the seats) freaked out with joy. The Inky Jukebox suspects that the intern (being a college junior) was not old enough to recognize the songs, and therefore found the jam mystifying. The majority of the audience, however, consisted of people old enough to remember these songs when they first came out (The Inky jukebox included) and could therefore understand and appreciate the homage it was.

Of note was Chesney’s performance of “The Boys of Fall,” his anthemic love song to football, the video of which became such an iconic collection of images that it spawned it’s own documentary. Chesney preceded it by speaking directly to the Pittsburgh fans who were chanting “Here we go Steelers, here we go.” He mentioned how special it was to sing the song in Heinz Field (home of the Steelers), which delighted the crowd no end. The cheer that went up when the Steelers footage playing behind him came on was perhaps the loudest of the night. Chesney actually cracked up with emotion when singing (notice that, intern?); he could have been singing a spiritual for all the fans cared — three half naked boys in front of The Inky Jukebox all hugged up unselfconsciously, took off their hats and crushed them to their hearts, and held their other arms up in the air waving gently and swaying as if in church.

It’s clear why Chesney has been named Entertainer of the Year so many times; he’s earned it and continues to earn it every time he plays. This show was worth every penny, especially when you consider that you got four top-name acts or your buck.

(On the slow descent down the ramps exiting the stadium, The Inky Jukebox can report that a passionate chant of “Fuck You Jagr” could be heard reverberating off the concrete. Hey; it’s a sports town.) 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Real Good Man: The Best of Tim McGraw

I Guess That's Just The Cowboy In Him

 The Inky Jukebox has been highly critical of Tim McGraw in the past, but this has mostly been due to his acting. Or rather, the roles he’s played. But The Inky Jukebox thinks Tim McGraw is one of America’s great singers and it’s a shame that a lot of folks would preface that by saying “country music singers.” He’s one of the nation’s best talents, period, genre notwithstanding. The mind boggles that giant swaths of the population has never or will never hear his songs because they are relegated to country music stations / channels.

It’s been 21 years since McGraw signed a record contract, and in that time he’s sold 40 million albums and put out three Greatest Hits records, although this is misleading because he publically disowned the third one his label put out without his approval (and rightly so), because it consisted entirely of tracks left over on the floor after all the decent material had been taken, none of them hits, let alone “great.”  The first two are genuinely representative of the bulk of his career, however, which can be pretty much divided into two halves.

First, there is early Tim McGraw with a thick Louisiana twang and a high, tinny voice singing about hick life and Indian Outlaws. Then he became a real star, married Faith Hill, and started putting out records with a much higher production quality featuring the industry’s best songwriting. Here we have mature McGraw, with his ubiquitous shiny black hat, tight shirts, and the sexy confidence of a superstar. His voice deepened and he learned to drop the heavy dialect, especially noticeable when he sings slow.

It is worth noting that the Dancehall Doctors, McGraw’s recording and touring band have been with him for a zillion years, are one of the best backing bands around; totally smooth professionals.

In lieu of that awful third Greatest Hits album, The Inky Jukebox would like to propose a Best Of collection. Yes, we know it eschews much of McGraw’s early sound, and nearly avoids “hits” which were released as singles, but that’s what we’re all about here at The Inky Jukebox. We don’t care if they were a single or an album track: these are just the best songs. This is not a list, per se, in that the songs are ordered according to how good they are; it is a playlist for an album.

You will note that in general, McGraw’s videos are a montage of live concert footage where he gets to show off all his moves and wear his shirt open to here. Read on through to the end, y'all: there is a very special treat waiting for you.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There is a reason McGraw leaves this one for the encore; it’s not only a brilliantly written song with ties to McGraw’s own life (the death of his father Tug McGraw), but it’s catchy and singable and delivered with genuine feeling. It poses a simple question about mortality (“what would you do? / what did you do? / what would I do?) and answers it in soaring fashion in the chorus.

I went sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…

In true anthemic fashion, that last line changes in the last, bombastic chorus to “watched an eagle as it was flying,” thereby lending the song a hokey but effective metaphor for the soul carried up to heaven. The video is classy in a high-exposure black and white. I defy any person living south of the Mason-Dixon Line not to be able to finish the line “I went 2.7 seconds….”

That’s Why God Made Mexico

Margie said Roy, you ain’t listening to me
And I’ve got a whole lot more to say
Roy just crossed the floor and picked up his car keys
And she ain’t seen or heard from him to this day
And that’s why God made Mexico

First of all, the opening lines are The BOMB, and second of all, you have to listen to the song to figure out what the hell it all means. (HINT: it involves escaping the law and tequila.) Evidently, God is a master of making geographic entities way the heck after man was around to conquer the natives and conduct the Louisiana Purchase and all that man-made shit. Just ask Jason Aldean, who credits the Lord with making “those flyover states.”

I may be a real bad boy
But baby I’m a real good man

Oh Mama. The Inky Jukebox probably doesn’t have to deconstruct this one for you, but we will anyway. Girls marry good men but fantasize about fucking bad boys. Bad boys are no good; they break your heart. But they are SEXY. McGraw gets all John Donne on us here by providing a carpe diem plea for a lady to go on a “wild ride” with his “velvet hands” by arguing both sides of the proverbial coin. On the one hand he’s a much-desired bad boy; on the other — it’s a trick! There is no other side because the “good” here refers to how awesome he is in the sack. Look too at the clever juxtaposition of “boy” to “man.” He’s challenging her need for an immature lover by offering her a real man. It doesn’t hurt that he sings it like a hen-night stripper, either. Gimme.

This slow number from 2009’s Southern Voice album has such a beautiful melody and is so well sung it has fast become the album’s quiet standout for The Inky Jukebox. Amazing songwriting from Sean McConnell, but also a great example of the phrasing being improved mightily by the star. It’s also notable for being one of the increasing number of records McGraw puts out from the woman’s point of view, which is refreshing. Pity that they are all sluts and whores though.

Let’s get the hell out of this bar / Mr. Whoever you are.

Put Your Lovin’ On Me

Sometimes a phrase is better when it’s destroyed a little bit. Case in point: asking someone to love you. You can say “please love me,” or “hold me” or even “fuck the living daylights out of me” but nothing quite captures the essence of the yin and yang of male / female relationships like asking someone to “put [their] lovin’ on [you]. It’s as if the love were a cloak or some lovely unguent one could massage in. It suggests a hint of the dom / sub too; it’s a request in no uncertain terms to have something done. It’s also rather tender. It’s one of The Inky Jukebox’s favorite love songs, simple and direct.

This is some old-school country featuring twangy Tim singing about the classic desire for a simple life away from the concrete jungle. It’s a crowd-pleaser, an essential concert set list piece, and the crowd sings every word with utter conviction. The chorus is super peppy, best sung when the band has stopped playing simply to clap the beat.

I’m gonna live where the green grass grows
Watching my corn pop up in rows
Every night be tucked in close to you
raise our kids where the good Lord’s blessed
Point our rocking chairs towards the west
Plant our dreams where the peaceful rivers flow
Where the green grass grows

One of the sexiest songs there ever was. Why? Well, the title is pretty damn suggestive for a start, and flirts with naïveté; is the guy singing about his rough and ready side, or is a girl literally talking about her lover? Hmmm…. All The Inky Jukebox knows is that it raises your pulse and includes one of the best guitar solos in country music. It deserves its place as McGraw’s exit song at live shows, when he can walk offstage a sex-God hero. As with all good songs, it delivers a twist: the song moves the refrain of the title from first person singular (I, me) to first person plural (us, we).

We ride and never worry about the fall
I guess that’s just the cowboy in us all

If you are going to listen to one Tim McGraw song, listen to this one to get a good idea why he is the superstar the ladies love. This version gives a good glimpse of it as a closing salvo live. 

This song features the memorable lines “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah / yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah / Sing me home.” You will not find these printed in the lyrics however. The Inky Jukebox includes this song because it sounds like a Tim McGraw song. A measure of an artist’s success is that his or her work is immediately recognizable and unique. This is it.

This is one of those story songs in which the protagonist murders his stepdad and covers up the crime, but it’s justified because evil stepdad beat on his Mama. The way the song builds in intensity and the powerful chorus are a great example of a McGraw narrative song.

Tim and Faith have done numerous duets, but this is the sweetest. The video is a live take, so a little different from the record. This is on McGraw’s album, but she gets all the vocal fireworks in the song.

He had a barbecue stain on his t-shirt, she was killing him in that mini-skirt. The rest is history.

She’s My Kind of Rain

It’s a ballad. It has full-on strings. And “confetti fallin’ down,” etc. Don’t listen to the lyrics, just pick up your girl / guy and slow dance with them for Gods sake. Then make some babies why dontcha.

A good singer can deliver power ballads with a voice that remains strong enough to knock the mic stand down yet subtle enough to manage the nuance of melody and still feel like it’s being sung from the heart. This is just such a song. The lyrics are a big gloop of treacle scraped off the bottom of a teenager’s dream journal about as packed with the most wrenching cliché as you can imagine, but ignore them and just listen to the music.

All I wanna do is let it be and be with you
And watch the wind blow by

Yes, another ballad. This one features a lovely bit of fiddle playing and falsetto at the end. Gorgeous. Sorry about the video. The Inky Jukebox couldn’t help herself. Enjoy.